Census Bureau Research Data Center to be established at UW–Madison

September 9, 2014

The potential for interdisciplinary research is about to expand considerably throughout the state of Wisconsin, thanks to Census Bureau approval for construction of a branch Research Data Center, or RDC, on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus.

A Census Bureau RDC provides secure access by researchers to administrative data linked across federal agencies that would otherwise not be available due to personal security and privacy concerns. The data, which are anonymized to protect individual privacy, complement survey-based data such as household and business censuses.

Rebecca Blank

Rebecca Blank

“I’m delighted that UW–Madison will have an RDC available to students, faculty and research staff,” says UW–Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank. “This will enhance our social scientists’ ability to analyze critical economic and social questions using census data.”

RDCs equip researchers with access to data about individuals across a range of areas — their income, public program participation, education, and much more — and comprehensive information about business formation and ongoing operation. Such information should help address researchers’ frustrations with inadequate information to draw informed conclusions about how to address a broad range of challenges faced by individuals, families and society at large.

The Wisconsin RDC will enable scholars to examine policies’ effects and thereby inform policymakers’ decisions about what works so funding can be maximized in a policy environment of restricted budgets where every dollar counts. In brief, the new RDC brings the Wisconsin Idea to life for people living in Wisconsin and beyond its borders, UW–Madison officials say.

Examples of the research questions RDC data will help answer include: sources of job and wage growth; determinants of social mobility across the life cycle; impacts of educational attainment and food availability on health outcomes; determinants of entrepreneurial activity and business startup success; effects of alternative economic development strategies on local economies; and many others.

UW-Madison’s RDC will operate as a branch location of an existing RDC at the University of Minnesota, and will serve researchers throughout the state, including those at UW–Milwaukee and other UW System institutions, and investigators at Wisconsin state institutions. The RDC will open in early 2015 after construction of a secure facility to be located in the Sewell Social Science building on the UW–Madison campus.

Brent Hueth

Brent Hueth

Support for the project demonstrates tremendous potential for interdisciplinary research. Participating faculty represent six colleges and schools on campus — Agriculture and Life Sciences, Business, Education, Human Ecology, Letters and Science, and Medicine and Public Health.

“I can’t wait to get the doors open so that faculty and students on campus can take advantage of the many tremendous new opportunities that ‘big data’ offers for social science research,” says Executive Director Brent Hueth. “I’m also excited to see graduate student and faculty researchers across many social science disciplines interact through use of these unique data.”

— Deborah Johnson