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Census Innovation Day: Government at the Speed of Business

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Groves address the adience

Guest blog post by Robert Groves, Director of Commerce's U.S. Census Bureau

I’m blogging from the Census Bureau’s Innovation Day event. We’re highlighting for all our staff the newest tools and techniques that we’re developing to do our work more efficiently.

These are the fruits of programs that seek ideas from every staff member, from the newest to the most senior, about how to do our work for less money, to do it faster, and to complete it with higher quality. Hundreds of proposals were submitted and scores of projects are underway to introduce the new procedures. The depth of creativity within the staff rivals that of any organization.

What are we up to?

The Census Bureau produces most all information we know about the socioeconomic and demographic characteristics continuously. We also are the key supplier of information on the economy—retail sales and other service sector volume, manufacturing, foreign trade, state and local government finances, and a host of others. Almost every week, information that answers the question, “How are we doing?” is released.

We’re moving into mobile apps as a way to give the world access to our statistics immediately, with more relevance to where they are at the moment, to what types of topics they want to track, and to what changes are occurring in key indicators. We’ve completed an API for common-format access to our statistics and will release an Economic Statistics app in August, for tablets and mobile phones. Instant access to the latest statistics on Gross Domestic Product (from the Bureau of Economic Analysis), jobs statistics (from the Bureau of Labor Statistics), retail sales, manufacturing, exports and more.

The Census Bureau has imported into its internal computer environment a whole suite of collaboration tools that allow work teams to communicate, comment on each other’s work, keep track of progress on milestones, and reduce the number of face-to-face meetings. This tool will be key to creating a more virtual Census Bureau, with more teleworking, and more people working out of their homes, reducing the pressures for brick and mortar work sites.

We are exploring crowd sourcing to update our electronic map files, for new roads and other features. 

We’ve created near real-time dashboards monitoring the progress of our national data collection, summarizing reports from thousands of interviewers throughout the country instantly and permitting us to intervene when necessary to increase efficiencies. We have restructured our supervision of interviewers to take advantage of these new information systems, saving the taxpayer millions of dollars each year.

We are reducing the burden on the American public by combining data sets within our security firewalls, to create new data products. One of these is the Local Employment Dynamics program, which provides both local information about businesses, but also the characteristics of the employees working in those businesses. With such combinations, local business developers can assess the occupational mix of the labor market, synergistic industrial sectors, and commuting patterns of employees.

Our vision is that we will collect data using wireless mobile computing devices, with near-real-time access to secure central files to monitor work assignments. We also believe that the users of our statistical information will similarly be in constant Internet communication with their preferred information sources.  We want to be one of those sources. We want to push out our statistics in a form tailored to the needs of the user.  We want them to be updated with the latest information as soon as we have released it. 

Our Innovation Day is a moment to celebrate the successes achieved thus far.  The real success is giving more and more relevant statistical information to the country.

Innovation Day video

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