Authoring questionnaires for the U.S. Census Bureau

The Challenge 

The Economic Directorate of the Census Bureau conducts an Economic Census every 5 years to create a profile snapshot of the U.S. economy. This census gathers data from all large- and medium-sized firms, and from a sample of small businesses. It requires more than 800 questionnaires to handle the broad diversity of the U.S. economy, including manufacturing, mining, construction, wholesale, retail, and other services.

Because the economy is dynamic, the Census Bureau needs to redesign the many Economic Census questionnaires every time it fields this census. Some business categories grow and require more detailed information (e.g., microbreweries), and new categories emerge (e.g., cloud computing service providers).

While many questionnaires are distinct, questionnaires also share many aspects. Since the questionnaire design applications had no way to combine shared metadata, the Census Bureau tapped Fenestra Technologies, acquired by Westat, for a solution.

Our Solutions 

  • The Generalized Instrument Design System (GIDS) was developed to
    • Leverage the use of metadata to allow for reuse among questionnaires
    • Generate both conventional paper and electronic versions of the questionnaires
    • Allow fully automated questionnaire page generation where possible
  • Westat is conducting research for the Census Bureau to convert the system to a web-based application with support for producing paper, desktop electronic, and web-ready questionnaires from the same source content and metadata.

The Results 

  • The net result is a highly reusable, flexible system for producing a wide range of questionnaires designed from reusable content and metadata.
  • The proposed web-based system will improve productivity and reduce development and deployment costs.

Our Client 

U.S. Census Bureau