Background and History
The Kentucky: By The Numbers Program is designed to address challenges associated with the changing landscape of secondary data by enhancing skills in using secondary data for local decision-making.
Through county Extension agents, statewide programming, web access, and direct assistance, the primary elements of the program are:
The Kentucky: By The Numbers Program began its life as a data series. "Welfare Reform: By The Numbers" was designed to provide access to comprehensive secondary data to assist in implementing the new 1996 welfare reform legislation. At that time, comprehensive online sources for secondary data were just getting started. (To read more about online data at the time, the Government Information Sharing Project at Oregon State is a good example: http://www.dlib.org/dlib/march96/briefings/03oregon.html).
No sooner had "Welfare Reform: By The Numbers" been unveiled than county Extension agents in Kentucky immediately asked for more data.
And so began the Kentucky: By The Numbers Data Series.
It didn’t take very long before what began as just a data series began to develop into a program. As web access to public secondary data grew, so too did interest in how to access and use those data. In response, Kentucky: By The Numbers began its transformation. No longer just a data series, the program began providing skill-based resources including publications, training, and even classroom lectures on how to find and use data from the internet.
When web access to secondary data first began, it was through a limited number of “click and print” websites. Today, those same websites have increased in number and they use ever more complicated interactive interfaces. While new features increased the ability to access and utilize the data online, they can also be a challenge to navigate.
To help in using secondary data websites, the Kentucky: By The Numbers Program instituted a new series called graphical website instructions. Using screen shots of the actual websites with “click here” types of instructions, these publications provide quick and easy help with some of the commonly used data websites.
While web access to secondary data is now commonplace, today we are moving from a digital divide to digital inequality. Just as technology and electronic media have continually grown and evolved, so to have they become ever more complicated to use and access. It’s not just about having internet access anymore, but the nature of that access and the age of computers and programs can also be barriers.
Since limited resource communities can face particular challenges in access to internet capabilities and computer technologies, both the Kentucky: By The Numbers Program and the SNARL website continue to be intentionally designed with very few “bells and whistles” so that it is easy to download and easy to print (regardless of technology access) and even communities and organizations with limited resources can still gain easy access to basic data and other resources in the Kentucky: By The Numbers Program.
Over the years, the Kentucky: By The Numbers Program has grown to include new skills and new resources. But, it is also in a state of continual update and revisions. To keep pace with the constant and rapid changes, some of the earliest resources have been total re-written and/or updated multiple times. In fact, all of the original publications and graphical website instructions, as well as several later versions, are now obsolete.
In 2006, the Kentucky: By The Numbers Program became an institutionalized part of Cooperative Extension in Kentucky. Today, training on accessing and using secondary data is included in the core training for all new Extension agents in the state and the data series is used in program reviews and plans of work.
At the end of 2010, the landscape for secondary data saw another round of major changes. Within just a few months three key events happened nearly simultaneously: data from the 2010 Census were released; the first complete set of estimates from the American Community Survey (ACS) were released; and the U.S. Census Bureau unveiled a completely redesigned American FactFinder website for accessing their data.
The release of the first complete set of estimates from the American Community Survey (ACS) was an important change for local data users. The ACS replaced the decennial Census as the source for detailed data on social, economic, and housing characteristics. While data for larger geographies had already been available, in December 2010, the first complete set meant that all counties now had estimates from the ACS.
Even though the American Community Survey meant that local users had a new data source, the estimates it provided were very different and more complicated than what everyone has been used to using. It also meant that, for the first time, Extension agents and local communities needed an understanding of some basic statistical issues in order to accurately use estimates from the American Community Survey and avoid misinterpreting their local data.
In response to these changes, in 2011, Kentucky: By The Numbers unveiled a new program: a series of resources and training on the American Community Survey designed for the occasional user.
Resources developed for the American Community Survey included everything from some of the common questions a county Extension agent might be asked from a resident who received a questionnaire in the mail to a question/answer publication explaining the basics of how to understand the margins of error that accompany estimates from the ACS. The resources included maps, publications, specialized training, and a new section to the Kentucky: By The Numbers website was added. In addition, existing trainings on how to access and use data from the internet were also changed to include up-to-date information on the ACS.
Today the Kentucky: By The Numbers Program has long out-grown its modest beginnings as a basic data series when online access to secondary data was only just emerging.
Over the years, it has kept pace with the rapid and constant changes that mark today's access and use of secondary data. New programs and resources have been developed to provide assistance in finding data online, in using secondary data, and graphical website instructions are continually updated or re-done as websites regularly change their navigational designs.
Never losing sight that easy access to data in usable forms is still an enduring need, in the past 16 years, there have been over 60 issues of the Kentucky: By The Numbers Data Series containing data on over 1,000 variables for each of the 120 counties in Kentucky.
As the landscape for secondary data continues to evolve and change, so too will the Kentucky: By The Numbers Program continue to evolve and change – always with an eye towards its primary goal: to provide up-to-date resources, skills, and assistance in using secondary data to inform programming, planning, and local decision-making.
"Kentucky: By the Numbers" webpages:
The SNARL website is at http://www.ca.uky.edu/snarl
For more information, contact:
University of Kentucky, College of Agriculture