population data (kentoh/Shutterstock.com)

Survey: Cities depend on federal data

The federal government collects a treasure trove of information that is used by businesses, state and local governments and research organizations. According to a recent survey by the Sunlight Foundation, more than 70 percent of city officials said federal data was either very important or important to their job.

More than three quarters of respondents said the data they use comes from the Census Bureau -- specifically, the American Community Survey (ACS), an annual nationwide survey that collects and produces information on demographic, social, economic and housing characteristics of the population.

“It is hard to overstate how widely used Census data is,” the Sunlight Foundation said. “Respondents explained that Census data informed everything from annual budgets to outreach efforts to long-term planning for many cities.”

This data helps with data-driven initiatives like fighting food deserts, improving infrastructure and digital inclusion. It also allows a city to compare itself to others around the country.

City officials told the Sunlight Foundation they’ve been using federal data for a long time -- almost 60 percent said the use spans more than a decade. Many see it becoming more important in coming years -- more than 70 percent expect to use slightly more or much more federal data.

Just over 40 percent of respondents said the publishing schedule for federal government data is “just right.” More than 50 percent said they wanted federal data more often.

“When asked about specific data needs, respondents, perhaps not surprisingly, were particularly eager for more local-level data,” the report said. “Respondents asked for more granular data about their communities’ health; migration; law enforcement and corrections; employment; and generally more information from the ACS.”

Read the full survey here.

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a former reporter for GCN.

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