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Timing of data release

When in the dissemination cycle should microdata files be released?

Production and release of microdata files must form part of the dissemination cycle. There is a strong argument supporting the release of information aimed at broad audiences first so the NSO can meet its immediate objectives and provide public feedback. Such information includes descriptive survey reports and analysis by the data producer. For official data producers, it is important to establish these official results and publish them at the outset of the dissemination cycle.

Production of a microdata file demands additional time, uses specialized resources that must scheduled, and requires some sort of vetting. The NSO may need to satisfy certain internal or external research/analytical objectives and thus may choose to delay creation of a microdata file for some months following official release of survey results. Regardless of the timetable, researchers like to be informed of planned release dates so they can schedule their own work. Delays must be reasonable; those of several years make results much less relevant.

“Even when micro-data are disseminated as promptly as possible, there are situations where it would be beneficial to release a portion of the micro-data or aggregated data prior to the time when the full set of micro-data can be made available. Such requirements [should be] included in the planning stages or raised as soon as the need for them is apparent.” (NCHS. 2002. “Policy on Micro-data Dissemination.”)