How Can Developers Use American Community Survey Statistics to Answer Real-World Questions?

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Written by: Logan Powell

API screen shotLast summer, the Census Bureau launched its first application programming interface (API), giving developers access to a variety of data sets, including the American Community Survey five-year estimates. These estimates provide statistics for every neighborhood in the nation, allowing developers to create new tools to help better understand their communities and solve real world issues.

On June 1, the National Day of Civic Hacking will provide an opportunity for us to build stronger ties with the developer community while reaching new audiences with our statistics. Civic hacking, a positive type of community building around data, allows programmers to harness the power of publicly available government statistics in order to create apps that benefit everyone.

The National Day of Civic Hacking brings together citizens, software developers and entrepreneurs from across the nation to use publicly released data, code and technology to solve challenges relevant to neighborhoods, cities, states and the nation.

Twenty local, state and federal agencies are expected to participate in the event. The Census Bureau has provided two challenges for developers to use American Community Survey statistics:

  1. Develop an application that helps business and local governments learn about the socio-economic characteristics of a community to enable evidence-driven decisions that foster local economic development and/or job creation.
  2.  Develop an application that helps local governments plan for disaster recovery by knowing who lives and works in a community.

Note: As always, the Census Bureau protects your privacy and no confidential or personally identifiable information is available through the API or challenges.

Why create these challenges? American Community Survey estimates provide the only neighborhood-level statistics for a variety of topics, from poverty rates to commute times. For example, the American Community Survey tells us in Zapata County, Texas, 85.9 percent of people 5 and older spoke a language other than English at home, among the highest in the nation and in Sierra County, N.M., 23.8 percent of households had a person 65 and older who lived alone, among the highest in the nation.

The American Community Survey is the most relied-upon source for up-to-date socio-economic information every year — invaluable to local decision makers, both public and private. Developers who work on these challenges will have the opportunity to create a tool that may become vital to a variety of people by helping a small business owner decide where to expand his or her business or community emergency management officials know what populations will need extra help in the event of a natural disaster.

The Census Bureau will join other government entities such as NASA and the White House, in this event. It is just one way we are meeting the goals for open government in line with the Digital Government Strategy so that developers can make apps that make our public data more accessible anytime, anywhere and on any device.

Census Bureau staff have already begun to participate in the challenges. An internal codeathon was held on May 17th and a group of developers, designers and other staff worked together to begin developing a map using American Community Survey statistics to show vulnerable populations in case of a disaster. You can view the idea here.

The National Day of Civic Hacking will include more than 80 independently run events in more than 36 states, allowing people to participate in a variety of ways, whether at home or collaboratively.

Do you have an idea for an app that answers one of the challenge questions? You can join other developers in our forum to discuss it or post your finished product to the Application Showcase within the Developer’s Forum. You can also join the conversation on Twitter by following #hackforchange and #Census.

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