U.S. Census Moves Toward Online Data Collection

Census Bureau LogoFor those of us who make our living in commercial market research, the United States Census Bureau is an august bastion of methodological rigor.

The agency has been led since 2009 by a highly respected academic and leader in the field of survey methodology and social research, Dr. Robert Groves. (Anyone who knows Dr. Groves or his work was appalled by the politicization of his nomination as Director in April 2009.)

It is not surprising, then, that nearly all of the bureau’s survey work is done by mail, telephone, and – gasp! – in person. Right?

Well, that’s changing.

Dr. Groves is already making plans for the Bureau to offer an online option in the 2020 decennial census.

OK, but 2020 is a long way off.

But even sooner, there are recently announced plans to start using an online option by January in the American Community Survey (ACS), the ongoing, highly detailed, mandatory study which is the replacement for the former “long form” in the decennial census. The results of the ACS online option will inform plans for Census 2020.

The ACS plans, which are not yet approved, call for respondents to be asked first to respond online; those who have not responded online will receive a paper questionnaire after about 2 weeks, followed by a postcard reminder.

The Bureau estimates about half of those currently responding by mail in the first month will respond online, representing a significant savings in the cost of mail data collection.

You can be sure the Bureau will be publishing detailed reports on its ongoing tests of online survey methods. Those tests are sure to yield lessons valuable to market researchers. Let’s face it, we don’t have the time, the budget or the scale to do tests comparing and contrasting data collection modes on a large scale.

Now if we could just get them interested in mobile data collection… ;).

Please share your thoughts on the U.S. Census Bureau’s plans for online data collection in the comments section below.

About Dana Stanley

Dana is the Editor-in-Chief of Research Access.


  1. I look forward to the validation studies sure to come from this effort. This move is a win for both the #Census budget and the #mrx industry.

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