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Expanding Record-Keeping Study Methodology to Assess Structure and Availability of Data in Business Records (309738)*Melissa Cidade, U.S. Census Bureau
Diane Willimack, U.S. Census Bureau
Kristin Stettler, U.S. Census Bureau
Demetria Hanna, U.S. Census Bureau
The U.S. Census Bureau is conducting research to consolidate and simplify designs and production processes for its annual trade-based surveys. To determine feasibility and implementation strategies for managing respondent burden by harmonizing questionnaire content and streamlining data collection processes, we studied record-keeping practices, data availability, and response behaviors of medium-sized companies with ten or more locations operating in at least two industries, which make up roughly half of multi-unit companies with employees.
Our Phase 1 research protocol for in-depth in-person interviews investigated industrial classification and survey definitions through the lens of a company’s chart of accounts. We found that industrial classification, our basis for trade-based surveys, often fails to align with a business’s organizational and accounting structures. Moreover, industry-specific survey questionnaires do not provide apparent linkages to one another or to a holistic frame of reference supplied by consolidated financial reports. Together, these suggest a company-centric, rather than industry-centric, collection strategy, using consolidated figures for key variables as a reference set.
In Phase 2, we assessed the effectiveness of the “topic-based” approach for three key variables – revenue, expenses and assets – and investigated the accessibility of data at various operational levels of the company. Applying a “card sort” methodology adapted for web-based administration during interviews conducted virtually, respondents categorized data using a 4-point scale (Snijkers & Arentsen, 2015), associating accessibility and response error (Bavdaz, 2010), for different levels of measurement, including establishment, industry, and product line.
This paper describes methodologies used in both research phases, and highlights previously unknown findings they uncovered. Results are used to inform next steps in developing an integrated survey of business activities.