Census reconstructs construction data collection and analysis processes – GCN

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Government Innovation Award 2021

Census reconstructs construction data collection and analysis processes

For the past 50 years, the Economic Indicators Division of the Census Bureau has relied on manual data collection and existing processes to analyze and report economic information on the country’s construction activity. The volume of data collected and short turnaround times have challenged Census to collect, process, analyze and report monthly new housing starts in 20,000 jurisdictions.

To take advantage of new third-party data sources and provide more detailed information for the monthly construction indicator reports in the United States, Census worked with Reveal Global Consulting to design and automate collection, analysis and dissemination of data that reduce costs while improving the accuracy and quality of census economic indicators.

The program is an end-to-end solution that collects, filters, formats and aggregates unstructured data from the census and many third-party sources. The data is ingested into the Alteryx Unified Analytical Process Automation platform for review.

By applying machine learning to satellite imagery, for example, the solution learned to automatically identify and classify new construction sites and changes to existing construction sites over an area equivalent to 11 million football fields. It also ingests permit data for single-family residential homes, web-pulled websites of local jurisdictions, and census shapefiles.

The algorithms filter, format and aggregate data, perform spatial analysis, and assess the coverage and accuracy of third-party data, including images. The solution then merges all the data and images, creates visualizations, and updates the build indicator.

The solution was able to improve the depth and breadth of data collection and automate all the repetitive and error-prone tasks that were involved in producing the build indicator, while remaining neutral in terms of costs. It also allows census analysts to perform more valuable tasks and can be extended to improve other census products.

The timely and relevant information provided by advanced analytics and data visualization gives census data users and external stakeholders the tools they need for optimal decision-making.

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