Census Bureau moving to more online data collection to save money

The US Census Bureau is collecting more information online in order to cut costs:

The Census Bureau already has started offering an Internet option to the 250,000 households it selects every month at random for the American Community Survey. Since becoming available in January, more than half the responses have come in on a secure site that requires codes and PIN numbers.

The bureau expects to use the Internet — plus smart phones and other technologies yet to be invented — for the next decen­nial census, in 2020.

The increasing reliance on technology is designed to save money. The 2010 Census cost $96 per household, including the American Community Survey that has replaced the old long form. That cost has more than doubled in two decades, up from $70 in 2000 and $39 as recently as 1990…

The Census Bureau spent two years running preliminary experiments in how people responded to American Commu­nity Survey questions on the computer screen. Five rounds of ­testing involved tracking eye movements as people scanned a Web page looking for which answer they wanted to check.

The households selected for the survey still get their first contact the old-fashioned way, with a mailed letter telling them the questionnaire is on its way. Then they receive a letter telling them how to respond over the Internet. If they don’t use that option, they get a 28-page paper form a few weeks later.

It is too bad this may be motivated primarily by money. I would hope it would be motivated more by wanting to collect better data and boost response rates. However, I’m glad they seem to have done a good amount of testing. But, the article fails to address one of the biggest issues with web surveys: can this technique be used widely with different groups in the US population or does it work best with certain groups (usually younger, more Internet access)? All this is related to how much money can be saved: what percentage of mailed forms or household visits can be eliminated with new techniques? And I would be interested in hearing more about using smartphones. The Internet may be horribly outdated even today for a certain segment of the population. Imagine a Census 2020 app – used via Google Glass.


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