Lessons Learned from 2014 Test Will Improve 2020 Census Operations

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Written by: John H. Thompson

This summer, I blogged about the 2014 Census test that took place in parts of Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County, Md. This was one of several mid-decade tests to research new methods and technologies for making the 2020 Census quick, easy and secure—and ultimately make the per household costs of the Census lower than in 2010 without sacrificing data quality. From April through September, we tested several key aspects of census operations, including ways to maximize Internet response by the public, changes to the way we manage our field operations, and new uses of technology.

We completed field operations for this test just a few weeks ago, and it went very well. We deployed all of our key activities on schedule, and we accomplished and learned a lot.

One of our major goals was to test ways to maximize Internet response. In 2020, we hope to use technology to reduce the overall cost of the census by potentially as much as $5 billion in taxpayer money compared with conducting it on paper (as in all past censuses). This test researched the use of the Internet in two main ways:

  1. As a way to contact people prior to the survey — We introduced “Notify Me Census,” which allowed households to tell us the most convenient way to contact them when it is time to respond to the survey. About 3 percent of households that were provided the “Notify Me” option opted to receive an email or text message instead of standard mail materials.
  2. As a response option — Nearly 58 percent of housing units responded online. The test’s overall self-response rate was 71 percent, meaning that 81 percent of self-responders chose to respond via the Internet rather than by mail or phone.

We made big strides toward maximizing the efficiency of our enumerators’ work using technology, including the use of smartphones to collect interview data and record their hours and mileage — all tasks done on paper in previous censuses. We also conducted a “bring your own device” test at Census Bureau headquarters to assess new secure software for collecting data on smartphones and tablets owned by enumerators (as opposed to using devices furnished by taxpayers).

What’s next? The Census Bureau is analyzing the results of the 2014 test and already incorporating early lessons to refine our questionnaires, systems and processes for our spring 2015 census tests in Maricopa County, Ariz., and in the Savannah, Ga., media market. Together, these tests will enable us to make critical design decisions for the 2020 Census by the end of September 2015. Through this careful research and testing, we can take steps to make it easier for people to respond and reduce the overall cost of the census, while maintaining our commitment to quality, accuracy and confidentiality.

To stay informed about preparations for the 2020 Census, please visit Census.gov.

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4 Responses to Lessons Learned from 2014 Test Will Improve 2020 Census Operations

  1. Wayne Whitehead says:

    What is being done to address the culture of micromanagement of the LCOs by RCCs?

    Wayne Whitehead
    LCOM in 2000, 2010

  2. Ed Kissam says:

    It is difficult to believe that the findings from 2014 tests of census operations conducted only in Montgomery County and parts of Washington, DC will yield reliable findings regarding field operations nationwide. Given the Census Bureau’s pride in the quality of its research, this sort of “convenience sampling” is quite disheartening for researchers who believe in the census as a bona fide “mirror of America”, that is, an increasingly ethnically and linguistically diverse nation. In particular, I can’t think of many areas which would be worse than Montgomery County as a testbed for Internet response. Savannah, GA and Maricopa County, AZ are similarly unrepresentative of the diversity of US media markets. Too little, too late, and not even adequate provisions to assess differential undercount….

  3. Lorraine French says:

    I am seriously offended by your designation of non-Hispanic white (which I am, I guess). I have NEVER been a non anything and refuse to be one now!!! Please consider changing this to White………….Hispanic……………..Black…..Asian.etc. They are of mixed races including white but that should be designated elsewhere, maybe by race. Do not try to “whitewash” the category with Hispanic, white…….non-hISPANIC WHITE.Thanks

  4. Events In Alabama says:

    This is somewhat a big effort where Montgomery county has been playing a great role in creating census. Thanks for sharing such a brief information.

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