Category Archives: Blog

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APDU Election Results

APDU is pleased to announce the results of the elections for our Board of Directors. Our new Officers and At-Large Directors include:

President: Kevin McAvey, Senior Manager, Manatt Health

Vice President: Mary Jo Hoeksema, Director of Government Affairs, Population Association of America and Association of Population Centers

At-Large Director: Susan Copella, Director, Pennsylvania State Data Center (PaSDC), Institute of State and Regional Affairs, Penn State Harrisburg

At-Large Director: Beth Jarosz, Senior Research Associate, Population Reference Bureau

Join us in giving a warm welcome to our new members. Congratulations!

John Abowd of the Census Bureau Calls for Response to Federal Register Notice

By John Abowd, Associate Director for Research and Methodology at the US Census Bureau. 

The blog referenced below was just released on www.census.gov. It explains how our new disclosure avoidance methods protect confidentiality and fitness-for-use. More importantly, it calls attention to the Federal Register Notice posted here (https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/07/19/2018-15458/soliciting-feedback-from-users-on-2020-census-data-products) soliciting user feedback on the 2010 Census data products.

It is imperative that sophisticated data users respond to this FRN. As my new blog makes clear, we can control the fitness-for-use of the 2020 Census data products, but the Census Bureau cannot give every use case the same margin-of-error (just as we currently cannot give every statistic from the ACS the same MOE). The use case for the PL94-171 redistricting data is written into that statute. It is the only use case currently reflected in the design of the 2020 Census disclosure avoidance system. Other data users must  supply information that demonstrates how the categorical and geographic detail in historical summary and detailed data tables, national and state demographic profiles, and topical briefs translates into their own use cases.

Public Data Leaders Gather to Look Ahead:  Closing Thoughts on our 2018 APDU Conference

By: Kevin McAvey, Vice President, Association of Public Data Users

This year, in mid-July, public data collectors and users across the country gathered in Arlington, Virginia to discuss the future of public data and its promise to inform public and private sector decisions.  From Stanford University librarians to data-reliant private sector executives to commissioners of our nation’s top statistical agencies, all reaffirmed their unwavering belief in the value of public data and of the unique perspective APDU’s Annual Conference provides in understanding how our critical public data resources continue to evolve.

APDU President Cliff Cook set the tone of this year’s conference, challenging participants to not only look at what we have accomplished over the past year, but to take the opportunity to engage other APDU members in where we need to go from here.  The opening panel, which I had the privilege of moderating, only reinforced the point.  Nancy Potok, Chief Statistician of the United States, and Nick Hart, Director of the Evidence-based Policymaking Initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center, outlined for APDU participants how the federal data landscape is changing in important and beneficial ways.  They discussed the impact the Foundations for Evidence-based Policymaking Act has had on how federal policies are developed, and highlighted recent steps the federal government is taking to rationalize our federal data agency resources in the pursuit of a comprehensive federal “data strategy.”

Data strategies are methodical plans to connect data users to the data they need, when they need it.  They are foundational to enhancing and modernizing any data ecosystem, and have long been a staple of many data-reliant private sector industries (including my own, healthcare).  It was uplifting and encouraging to hear the breadth and depth of thought our federal data policy leaders are investing into our nation’s long-term public data plans – and the earnestness with which they want feedback.  Dr. Potok, in particular, encouraged all APDU members to submit use cases to their federal data strategy website, and to stay in-touch as an active and engaged constituency.

Per usual for so many of us, the 2018 APDU Conference rolled quickly – too quickly – on from there, engaging members around public data updates and cross-cutting public data challenges.  A small sampling of the topics included:

·        Shari Laster, Head of Open Stacks at Arizona State University, led a panel on how we should all think about preserving “born-digital” public data, in an era where our knowledge and records can (literally) be deleted with a click;

·        Kathy Pettit, Senior Research Associate at the Urban Institute, moderated presentations and discussions around key indicator innovations around housing, consumer credit, and labor market reporting;

·        Mary Jo Hoeksema, the Director of Government and Public Affairs at the Population Association of America, tag-teamed APDU’s staple “Washington Briefing” with James Dyer of Baker Donelson, providing audience members an inside – and off-the-record – look at the “on the Hill” challenges facing our country’s federal statistical programs; and

·        Warren Brown, APDU’s President Emeritus and Research Faculty at Cornell University, rounded out our critical technical conversations, leading a panel discussing on best practices for linking administrative and survey data.

The APDU Conference’s second day was also treated to a lunchtime conversation with Erica Groshen, former BLS Secretary and current Cornell University Visiting Senior Scholar, John Thompson, Executive Director of the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics, and a (returning) Dr. Potok, where they discussed the federal government’s recent proposals to significantly reorganize several federal data agencies.

The 2018 APDU Conference was another successful event created by members for members, and left all with a better sense of the year behind us.  Even more importantly, however, the Conference primed us for the critical decisions and steps that lay ahead, as we collectively reshape our public data environment to meet our rapidly evolving data needs.

Thank you all for joining us, and I hope to see you all again in 2019.

Important Changes at the Economic Research Service

The Secretary of Agriculture announced on Thursday, August 9 that the Economic Research Service will undergo several significant changes in the coming year. USDA is moving ERS out of the Research, Education, and Economics area of the USDA to the Secretary’s Office of the Chief Economist.  The rationale is that this move will better align the missions of ERS and the Chief Economist.

In addition, most ERS and NIFA personnel will have to relocate outside of the Washington, DC metro area to an undetermined location. In fact, USDA also announced on August 9, its search for a site selection consultant to help with this process. Since the new locations have yet to be determined, it is possible that ERS and NIFA may be co-located when their new homes are found as expected by the end of 2019.

Finally, USDA recently announced that Mary Bohman, the Administrator of the Economic Research Service, will move to a new position the Office of the Administrator, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to serve as Associate Administrator (Economics), on September 2, 2018.

USDA Secretary Perdue provided the following reasons for these changes:

“1. To improve (their) ability to attract and retain highly qualified staff with training and interests in agriculture, many of whom come from our land-grant universities. (They’ve) seen significant turnover in these positions, and it has been difficult to recruit employees to the Washington, DC area, particularly given the high cost of living and long commutes.

2. To place these important USDA resources closer to many of (their) stakeholders, most of whom live and work far from the DC area.

3. To benefit the American taxpayers. There will be significant savings on employment costs and rent, which will allow more employees to be retained in the long run, even in the face of tightening budgets.”

These are controversial changes that have significant impacts on public statistics and signal intent by the Trump Administration to move forward on other changes to agencies, especially if they can be done through administrative action. Former USDA ERS Commission Katherine Smith Evans, now of the American Economic Association, recently wrote an editorial on proposed funding cuts for ERS – the agency faces significant threats to funding, staff, and mission.  APDU will keep you informed as further as this issue develops and will join with others to serve as your voice to address our shared concerns on these issues.

UPDATE 10/18: APDU President Calls for Members to Comment on Federal Data Policy

UPDATE 10/18: The Department of Commerce is requesting  Phase 2 comments on the Federal Data Strategy. The request for comments, Request for Comments on the Cross-Agency Priority Goal: Leveraging Data as a Strategic Asset: Phase 2, is open until November 16, 2018. The 47 draft practices of the Federal Data Strategy for also have a request for comment due by Nov 16 .  The revised principles of the Federal Data Strategy is based on comments to the June request for comments.

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Calls for Comments from federal statistical agencies have long been part of the APDU Newsletter.  The summer  turned out to be a busy time both for the Census Bureau and for the interagency staff working on the Federal Data Strategy.  We want to point out to our readers pending requests for comments from these two groups of particular importance:

  • Request for Comments on the Cross-Agency Priority Goal: Leveraging Data as a Strategic Asset:
    Comments are requested on the proposed high level pillars and principles for the Federal Data Strategy. Comments on this notice must be received by July 27, 2018.
  • Call for Use Cases to Inform the First federal Data Strategy:
    This call is in support of the Federal Government’s commitment to create a comprehensive Federal Data Strategy as part of the Cross-Agency Priority Goal Leveraging Data as a Strategic Asset.  Proposals should be received July 27.
  • Proposed Information Collection; Comment Request; 2020 Census:
    This request invites comments on 2020 Census office and field operations. Noteworthy topics include the manner in which citizenship data will be provided to the states, which in turn might lead to a design change in PL 94-171 redistricting data file, the use of administrative records and procedures around internet self-response.  To ensure consideration, written comments must be submitted on or before August 7, 2018.
  • Soliciting Feedback From Users on 2020 Census Data Products:
    The Census Bureau is currently planning the potential suite of 2020 Census data products and is seeking data user feedback to help understand how the public uses decennial census data products. The Census Bureau is especially interested in receiving responses to specific questions outlined in the FRN.  Public feedback is essential for a complete review of the decennial data products and will assist the Census Bureau in prioritizing products from the 2020 Census.  An informational webinar is scheduled for Tuesday, July 31 from 2:00 – 3:00 and will provide answers to questions about the feedback process.  Comments on this notice must be received by September 17, 2018.

We know our readers are all busy professionals, but we urge you to take the time to read, think about , and respond to at least one of these requests.  This is our opportunity to affect federal data policy for the next several years. When we met with agency staff at last week’s APDU conference in they were clear that they want to hear from us and invited us to provide feedback.

APDU Data Viz Award Winners Announced!

APDU received many excellent submissions for the 2018 APDU Data Viz Awards, and our expert review committee has concluded their deliberations. This was a difficult process with such great options to choose from – we are very grateful for the work put into developing and submitting these visualizations.

We would like to thank our review committee for their time and effort in evaluating the submissions. This year, Mike Crow of Crow Insight, Richard Schwinn of the SBA Office of Advocacy, and Ron Nakao of Stanford University served on the committee.

Without further ado, the winners this year include:

Federal Government

USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, “Making it Simple: Accessing U.S. Agricultural Statistics”

  • Sue King, USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service
  • Lorna Drennen, USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service
  • Rui Jiang, Penguin Labs

Researchers and Students

Center for Urban Research, CUNY Graduate Center, “Census 2020 Hard to Count Online Map”

  • Steve Romalewski, Center for Urban Research, CUNY Graduate Center
  • David Burgoon, Center for Urban Research, CUNY Graduate Center
  • Valerie Bauer, Center for Urban Research, CUNY Graduate Center

Researchers and Students

University of Baltimore, “GEOLOOM Co>Map: Cultural Mapping in Baltimore”

  • TJ ODonnnell, University of Baltimore
  • Christine Hwang, University of Baltimore
  • Stepthen Ansari, Blue Rasters
  • Seema Iyer, University of Baltimore

Private Firms

Population Reference Bureau, “Declines in Adult Death Rates Lag in the U.S. South”

  • Mark Mather, Population Reference Bureau
  • Paola Scommegna, Population Reference Bureau
  • Alex Friedhoff, District Analytics
  • Andrew Fenelon, University of Maryland

Congratulations to this year’s winners! Register for the 2018 APDU Annual Conference today to learn from awardees about how they created these excellent visualizations.

Why PolicyMap Loves the APDU Conference

By: Bernie Langer, PolicyMap

The first time I went to APDU, my first reaction was that I’d never before been around so many people who speak my language. We were talking about Census data, BLS data, education data, health data… I was around people who work on the same things that I spend my life working on. It was like visiting my home planet for the first time!

At PolicyMap, we’re concerned with collecting and mapping public data. We have a team that scours the web for new and interesting data, and ideas for what to do with it. We also have users that reach out and tell us what data they want us to add. Keeping up to date is important to us, and something we feel we do well. But just keeping current isn’t enough; we need to be ready to anticipate changes in the data universe.

And that’s why it’s so important to have a conference like APDU, where we can really hear what people around the country (and around the world) are talking about in the realm of public data. Experts, practitioners, data providers, and public officials are all there, discussing their work, their challenges, and their solutions.

One of the most valuable things we get from APDU is hearing from government data providers on the latest in their departments. There are usually various people from the Census speaking on topics ranging from the progress of the upcoming Census to the design of the ACS survey envelope. The Census Bureau isn’t the only game in town, and it’s great hearing from people at other organizations like the BLS and the National Center for Education Statistics.

After two days of sessions and conversations with fellow data people, you start to get a sense of big picture trends in data. Last year, there was a lot of talk about the possible decline of survey data in favor of administrative data and commercial data. Administrative data has really been the buzzword of the decade, and right now, it’s still the Wild West of data. APDU is a great forum for hearing about and discussing the best practices for working in this emerging area.

But what really makes APDU a necessary conference is the opportunity to meet people doing similar work across the country. Some of it is just sharing ideas and talking shop. But thanks to people we’ve met at APDU, we’re working on major new projects that wouldn’t have been otherwise possible.

This year, in addition to our APDU board representative, Elizabeth Nash, we’re sending our new Data Development Lead, Eliza Wallace, who will be attending for the first time. We’re looking forward to hearing about what’s being talked about in public data this year!

APDU Conference: Learn About Data Visualization

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Many of us remember a time not that long ago when we could provide users of our work a table or a spreadsheet, perhaps a few simple graphs, and then call it a day.  Those times are long gone.  Over the past several years those of us who work with data have experienced a major change in expectations among consumers of our work.  Just providing the data is no longer enough.  Users want and expect to see what the data looks like in a more literal way.  More and more, they have come to rely graphic representation to help interpret results and draw conclusions.  APDU has responded by focusing attention on the process of visualizing data, through our Data Viz Awards, our popular training class on Excel and Tableau, and through a session at our upcoming conference.

What key decisions do we need to make to create a successful data visualization?  How can you use data to help drive the story you want to tell?   More importantly, how can we use visualizations to help drive the decision making process?

At the upcoming APDU conference session on “Lessons from the Data Visualization Process” we will hear from three experience and accomplished speakers who have recently developed successful data visualizations.  They will talk about their experience choosing the right tools, making them work for the project, building the visualizations, and how they then used the results to communicate their work to a wider audience.

Intrigued? Join us in Arlington , VA on July 17 and 18, 2018 at APDU’s Annual Conference to learn how to get started on building your next great data viz!

APDU Conference: Find New Data on Children

Data, in its many iterations, is essential material for public and private decision making.  Data helps us interpret the past, chart a course for the future, and/or direct areas for discovery – all in the service of facilitating the decision-making process. The problem with data is it is unruly:  it can be in different forms with different biases; it can be everywhere and nowhere, scattered about with varying degrees of organization and purpose; it can be overwhelming as there is so much of it from so many sources.  Learning to navigate all this data by providing order to it is no easy feat. But when done well the payoff is at least two-fold: (1) decision makers are armed with a valuable tool to make better decisions; and (2) others wrestling with unruly data problems of their own have a possible blue print to bring order to their data.

Take the issue of the well-being of our children, their health, their education: are we being successful in providing the environment for our children to succeed? The answer to this question is something we take great interest in at all levels of society (family, neighborhood, locally, regionally, and nationally).  Fortunately, there is no shortage of data to provide us with insight as to our successes with children or identifying areas where we are falling short.  The trick lies in bringing order to all that unruly data – identifying all the relevant data, bringing order to it, and making it easily accessible – so that we can use it as a powerful tool to inform our decision making.

Imagine a website that brought together data from 35 public data sources with 600 measures of child health and well-being encompassing:

  • Child Safety
  • Children with Special Health Care Needs
  • Demographics
  • Education and Child Care
  • Emotional and Behavioral Health
  • Environmental Health
  • Family Economics
  • Physical Health

This website exists!  Kidsdata.org

Join us in Arlington, Va. July 17th & 18th, 2018 at APDU’s annual conference to learn more about navigating the public data around us by learning how Kidsdata.org was pulled together and how it has been used to inform decision making around children’s issues in the state of California.

APDU Conference: Supporting Federal Statistical Agencies in Congress

Recent proposed funding increases for the Census Bureau suggest that Congress is listening and responding to concerns expressed by the data user community.   However, the reality is other federal statistical agencies are not faring as well, enduring years of, at best, flat funding, and, at worst, funding cuts.  It is clear much work remains to ensure greater funding parity across the federal statistical system.

The 2018 Association of Public Data Users (APDU) Annual Conference is an excellent opportunity for data users to not only learn more about funding challenges facing federal statistical agencies, but also to hone their skills for communicating with policymakers about the value of federal support for statistical agencies, surveys, and data collection.  On July 18, as part of the Washington Update, APDU conferees will hear from Mr. Jim Dyer, former staff director of the House Appropriations Committee. With more than 30 years of legislative experience, Mr. Dyer will provide unique insights into the appropriations process and what APDU members can expect during the ongoing Fiscal Year 2019 deliberations.

For those conferees who are eager to engage policymakers more directly, APDU is offering a special workshop, “Building the Case for Public Statistics.” The workshop, which individuals must register for separately from the APDU conference, will be led by three government relations experts who will educate attendees about how and when to engage policymakers. During the workshop, participants will develop messages and receive feedback from the trainers.  For more information, go to: http://apdu.org/2017/12/18/building-the-case-for-public-statistics-training/.

The APDU conference is happening at a pivotal time during the annual appropriations process. Fiscal Year 2018 ends September 30, and Congress will be acting throughout the summer and, possibly, into the fall to pass all 12 of the Fiscal Year 2019 funding bills.  Come to the 2018 APDU conference to get the latest information about these deliberations and consider taking a deeper dive by attending the supplemental workshop to enhance your communication and presentation skills to policymakers. Hope to see you there!