The data

Frequently asked questions about data that appear on the Compass site.

What are Key Measures?

Key measures are indicators that help judge how we are doing in a given area. For example, the high school graduation rate is a measure of how well we are preparing our students for post-secondary education and the workforce. When indicators are measured over time, we can trace trends—are we improving, staying the same, or getting worse? By measuring these kinds of data, we can:

  • Learn where we are today
  • Inspire action to improve the quality of life in the region
  • Measure progress over time

How did you choose Key Measures?

In each of the topic areas, technical working groups composed of experts in the field, and academic and business leaders, convened to choose the indicators. They built on the foundation set by the Minnesota Compass website, adjusting the site to reflect unique issues for North Dakota. The following criteria and guidelines helped inform the process.


Relevant – relates to stated topic goals.
Valid – truly measures what it is intended to measure.
Time regularly collected the same way.
Leading signals broader changes to come, allowing the community to respond proactively
Policy-responsive – can be impacted by policy changes within a relatively short time period.
Affordable – can be easily collected within project budget.

Secondary criteria
Understandable easy for our target audience to understand.
Comparable allows for comparison within the region, by different groups
Standardized allows for comparison with other regions, metro areas, states, or countries.
Outcome-oriented reflects changes “on the ground” or actual impacts on the community, rather than change to inputs, such as funding or policies that could eventually lead to community change.

What is the difference between the Key Measures and More Measures sections?

The advisory groups were asked to choose two to four key measures for each topic that best met selection criteria. However, for each topic area, there may be a great deal of additional useful information to foster deeper understanding of the issue. The More Measures section includes a variety of data that enables the reader to dig deeper and take a more thorough look at the topics.

How do you select each geographic area?

This detailed map shows the geographic areas that are represented among the data on the North Dakota Compass site. Typically we use the state's eight planning regions (see here or here) as our definition of region. You can also create your own groupings by adding together data from the available counties in any breakdown that is available “By county” (click on "Data & notes" for detailed data). We use the metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. Data for "major cities" are for those with total population of at least 2,500 in 2010. Data for Native American reservations reflect the four tribal nations that are located fully in North Dakota, or in which a sizable population resides in the North Dakota portion of the reservation: Turtle Mountain, Fort Berthold, Spirit Lake, and Standing Rock.

Availability of data for each level of geography is dependent on the data source for the key measure. The list of available geographies can be found under the "breakdown" option for each key measure.

Where can I find data sources and definitions?

Key measure data has been compiled by Center for Social Research staff or Wilder Research staff using data from one or more credible sources. The source(s) citation for each key measure is provided below each data graph. To find more detailed information, including definitions or qualifications, go to the "View" drop down menu found above each key measure graph and choose "Data & notes."

Additional source citations:

Sources used to compile the geographic profile pages

Where can I find more detailed data?

For many of the data graphs that show only one year of data, trend data are available in the associated "Data & notes" table. More detailed data, such as the numerator and denominator used to calculate a percentage, may also be available. To find these more detailed data, go to the "View" drop down menu found above each key measure graph and choose "Data & notes."

What is a margin of error?

Sampling error in data occurs when estimates are based on a sample population. The margin of error (+/-) represents the estimated size of sampling error associated with the estimate. When possible, ND Compass presents in its tables the error margins for a 90% or 95% degree of confidence (the range in which the true value falls) depending upon the standard used by the original data source.

For example, the American Community Survey, which is used extensively throughout ND Compass, publishes a margin of error with a 90% confidence level. This is the range in which the true value will fall 90% of the time, i.e., nine times out of 10. For example, given a data estimate of 49% with a margin of error of +/-1%, one can be 90% confident that the true percentage lies between 48% and 50%.

Please note: if the data from two years are different, but their margins of error overlap, one cannot be certain that there has been a true change. For example, if the uninsured rate in your community was 10% (+/-3%) in the year 2009 and then 11% (+/-3%) in 2010, the ranges around the estimates are overlapping (an estimated 7-13% uninsured in 2009, and an estimated 8-14% uninsured in 2010). Therefore, we cannot know whether the “increase” from 10% to 11% in one year was due to chance, or is an actual increase in the uninsured rate in the community. Multiple data points over time can help to determine if there may be an underlying trend.

In general, margins of error become larger as the size of the group or level of geography gets smaller. For example, data about Native American residents in Williams County will have a larger margin of error than data about all Native American residents. When looking at graphs about small groups or small geographies, ND Compass encourages users to consult the margin of error on the “Data & notes” page, which can be accessed for any graph via the View drop down menu in the gray banner above the graph. In some instances, ND Compass staff have chosen not to publish data if the margins of error are too large to draw reasonable conclusions.

What other data errors are possible?

The results of surveys are subject to other types of error besides sampling error. ND Compass users are encouraged to consult the original data source for additional details about methodology and potential sources of error.

In addition, not all data found on ND Compass is survey data; therefore, some data do not have posted margins of error. Data about educational test scores, low birth weight babies, and crime, for example, come from actual reported counts so there is no sampling error involved. However, there may be other types of error present, such as crimes that occurred but were not reported to police. In addition, some data for small numbers may be suppressed to protect privacy. Where this is known, ND Compass staff have indicated this on the “Data & notes” page, which can be accessed for any graph via the View drop down menu.

Finally, as with all human endeavors, it is possible that ND Compass staff may have introduced an error. If you think you have found an error or have a question about the data, please let us know. We appreciate all feedback that can help us improve our website!

using compass data

Most data compiled for Compass key measures are public information and may be reproduced for free with appropriate citation, along with our url, This citation is provided below each data graph.

copying data graphs

You can copy a data graph directly into your article or presentation.

The easiest way is to click on the download button () and choose one of the graphic export formats (PNG, JPG, or PDF).

Please remember to include the citation with the graph.

Alternately, you can download the CSV file by hovering over the "view: Graph" text next to the breakdown and selecting "CSV file" from the dropdown menu. This will let you use the data to create your own graph. Or, if you want the data for an online article or blog, feel free to embed a link directly to the graph you would like to show.

North Dakota Compass

Center for Social Research
North Dakota State University

Compass created by:
Wilder Research

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