The Census Bureau in the United States will offer participants the option of responding online to the American Community Survey (ACS), a nationwide annual survey of more than 3.5 million households designed to provide a detailed understanding of America’s towns and neighbourhoods.
The ACS collects data on topics such as language, education, incomes and prices of essential items for use by retailers, homebuilders and city planners.
Beginning this week, households selected to participate will be sent a letter containing instructions on how to log into the secure website and complete the survey online.
The online option is a supplement to the existing paper or face-to-face survey options – if participants do not respond within two weeks of receiving the letter, the Census Bureau will send them a paper questionnaire, or contact them by phone or in person to obtain answers.
“The online response option is part of an ongoing digital transformation at the Census Bureau,” said Thomas Mesenbourg, the Census Bureau’s acting director, in a press release. “The Census Bureau is transforming to make responding to surveys more convenient, conducting surveys more cost-effective and America’s statistics more accessible on digital and mobile devices.”
After spending a record US$13 billion on the 2010 population census, the Bureau is trying to reduce costs such as printing, postage and workers while boosting response rates through online responses. At a per capita cost of more than US$40, the cost in the US is nearly 10 times the worldwide average of US$4.6 per capita. The 2011 census in India, by comparision, cost about US$400 million (US$0.5 per capita), even with nearly four times the population of the US.
ACS will be the 61st survey in the US to offer an online response option, though none of the other surveys are as large or conducted as widely as the ACS.
To ensure security and confidentiality of the data provided online, respondents will have to use a randomly generated user-ID that is mailed to them by the Bureau, and then use a PIN number generated by the system to log in to the survey.
Participants will also have the ability to review their answers and receive help online. The Bureau has released instructions on its website on how to access the online survey along with a video walking participants through the system.