Matt Lesnak - May 30, 2016

Our Favorite Public Data Sources

US Census MapWe've demonstrated the importance of both leveraging the data that your association already has along with extending beyond the walls of your organizations to understand customer journeys.  Incorporating publicly available data provides many creative opportunities to further create association analytics to drive data-guided decisions.

1. U.S. Census Bureau

The most commonly requested data is probably that provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.  Census data is often associated with basic population counts required for Congressional Apportionment, but it is much more than just counting people.  The American Community Survey is updated annually and details changes in local communities.  Along with a trove of economic data, other valuable Census data includes American FactFinder (AFF) with diverse areas such as E-Commerce sales, home-based business, and purchased services.

Here is a quick tip concerning Census data.  The common geographic information in your data is probably zip code, which is really intended for United States Postal Service logistics. Fortunately, the Census Bureau provides ZIP Code Tabulation Areas (ZCTAs) that are generalized representations zip code areas along with data describing geographic relationships.

2. Data.gov

Another great source is data.gov, which aggregates information from nearly 500 publishers driven by the 2013 Federal Open Data Policy requiring "newly-generated government data is required to be made available in open, machine-readable formats, while continuing to ensure privacy and security."  The data.gov website includes a range of data as broad as analytics born from your imagination:

3. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Eager to learn how weather impacts event registration?  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides weather data including temperature and precipitation along with normal levels by the hour.

4. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

How about the prevalence of health care topics and related data such as settings-of-care and insurance payments?  The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) provides a range of health-related data.

5. Wikipedia

The most collective data source of all is provided by crowd-sourced Wikipedia that includes project and page view trends.

6. 990 Data

No discussion of association data sources can be complete without mentioning available data about associations themselves.  Annual IRS "990 data" provides details of organizations exempt under Sections 501(c)(3) through 501(c)(9) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Honorable Mentions

Various non-profit organizations and other NGOs contribute their valuable data to the public, including the National Opinion Research Center (NORC), the Pew Research Center, and the Sunlight Foundation that promotes making government and politics more accountable and transparent.

A growing source of public data compiled by data scientists is provided by Kaggle, a young company mainly known for holding data science competitions.  Fascinating data can come from unexpected sources, such as private organizations that generate unique data as a result of their core business.  For example, the ADP National Employment Report has evolved into an eagerly awaited economic indicator.  Another example is the widely cited U-Haul National Migration Trend Report detailing population changes that occasionally surprise people.

Now What?

If you're anything like me, you might not have managed to read this far as exploring these data sources can rival the most addictive websites and video games.  A great feature of Tableau Desktop is to quickly visualize diverse data.  Once you decide data should be consistently available through the organization, creating a sustainable data architecture ensures your association can flexibly explore all available data together while providing the foundation for even more opportunities using advanced analytics.

Written by Matt Lesnak