The 2020 Census and Innovation in Surveys

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The U.S. Census Bureau is the leading source of quality data about the people of the United States, and its economy. The Decennial Census is the largest mobilization and operation conducted in the United States – enlisting hundreds of thousands of temporary workers – and requires years of research, planning, and development of methods and infrastructure to ensure an accurate and complete count of the U.S. population, estimated currently at 330 million.

As we look into the future of surveys, while understanding the decreasing levels of responses, the Census Bureau’s vision includes focusing on digital response: giving the public the opportunity to respond from any location, at any time. The 2020 Census is also leveraging digital communications, utilizing technologies like digital ads, social media, and chatbots to provide the public with access to authoritative information in more ways. Lastly, the Bureau is looking at new ways to combat mis- and disinformation, including standing up the government’s first ever Trust & Safety Team.

Census Deputy Division Chief, Zack Schwartz, will provide a behind the scenes overview on how the 2020 Census is conducted with insights into technical approaches and adopting industry best practices. This presentation will leave the audience with an appreciation for the magnitude of the Census and the role that technology plays, along with a vision for the future of surveys, and how attendees can do their part in ensuring that everyone is counted.

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Video Transcript

– Thank you so much for joining me today. My name is Zach Schwartz from the United States Census Bureau. I’m excited to talk to you all about the 2020 census and innovation in surveys. Really talking about the forward facing technology that the census use to complete and work through the 2020 census.

And I hope you all are excited and have done your 2020 census. But if you have not, please don’t forget to do so today at Let’s dive into the presentation.

So today’s presentation will cover a few items, particularly about an overview of the US Census Bureau, a little bit about the 2020 census environment. As I mentioned earlier, we’re really focusing on the digital response and the importance of being the first digital census. We’ll go into some details around innovations that we did for the 2020 census. And I’m gonna end with a really important topic, talking about mis- and disinformation. And the important work our team is doing to protect the 2020 census from misinformation or disinformation, and keeping the information authentic, and all about the 2020 census. Let’s dive in.

So some background about the United States Census Bureau. The 2020 census is an enormous effort that we undergo every 10 years as actually written into the constitution. We’re very proud of that here at the Census Bureau. The 2020 census and the numbers as it relates to the statistics across the states in the different jurisdictions is responsible for billions upon billions of dollars every year. And the importance of trillions of dollars, if you think about it between decades and decades. And it’s responsible for many, many, many things from roads and schools, hospitals, all the way to education, your police, your fire services, it is critical for your local communities and that’s why it’s so important to be counted. The Census Bureau does a lot more though than just the 2020 census. There are a hundreds of surveys conducted between the decade ranging from demographic to economic surveys and lots of things in between. We really are though one of the leaders in the US government around innovation and around technology. The 2020 census is something that we’re really excited to showcase our use of technology for. We are and the 2020 census is, the largest civilian mobilization in the entire US outside of a wartime effort. So it’s a huge undertaking. There are hundreds of thousands of people involved, and we’ll dive into what it takes to get the 2020 census done.

2020 Census: A Strategic Approach to Conducting a Complete and Accurate Count

So let’s take a look at the 2020 census from a bird’s eye view of what’s happening and how it works. So I’m gonna start on the left-hand side of the slide, establishing where to count. So in order to get a complete and accurate count, we’ve got to know where to count, where do people live? For many of you who live in what we call city-style addresses, it might be pretty straightforward. You have an address, you have a mail, you get mail at where do you live, but there are millions of residents in this country who don’t have regular mail. So we need to make sure we understand where to count and where to count those people who don’t necessarily have regular mail. We also need to understand of new construction, or where there might be baking households. So we really go through an intense operation that we did and actually completed last summer called address canvassing where we establish where to count. And we use really impressive satellite imagery over the decade to look at housing units across the entire US. And this was a really intense innovation for us because last decade, we actually sent out hundreds of thousands of people to the streets to collect addresses and they walked block by block. But you know what this time we were able to use satellite imagery, we reduced the footprint of our workforce on the ground significantly. And while we still did do some work on the ground last summer, a lot of the work was done virtually by sitting behind a computer and looking at satellite imagery, and being able to work through a variety of different administrative records. So once we have an idea on where to count, we really need to make sure as we release, that people know the 2020 census is coming. And many of you by this time, have probably seen our ads, have seen things on Facebook or Instagram or Google. We’ve been all over the place working both from a partnership perspective, which we’ll talk a lot about soon, but also advertising and motivating people to respond. And that digital response is really key for us. And we’re really excited that even at this point, we’re over 60% self-response. But we needs to make sure people know the 2020 census is coming, the importance of responding to the 2020 census and motivating them to respond. Last March, a couple of months ago, we opened the internet self-response portal, which is connected to And to date millions upon millions of residents have come to the website, have sent in their mail form, or have called us on the phone and have self responded to the 2020 census. Once again, another shout out, if you have not done so please respond to the census, It’s gonna be opened up until October. And with that being said, we’ve seen a huge amount of those households that have responded have done so online. Have taken the few minutes really, really just a couple minutes it takes to go in and respond online. We’re really proud that we have not had any downtime. We’ve had huge concurrent users taking the census. We’ve seen little to no complaints on social media side about taking the census. It’s really been a complete success when it comes to self-response online. We’ve also had call centers open for months now, taking calls each and every day, completing the census, and our paper processing centers, which are a critical part of self-response have also received thousands of paper forms, for those who wish to complete on paper.

One of the operations that is coming up in this August is something called non-response follow-up. It’s a kind of move around the globe here. Non-response follow-up is a door to door, it’s kind of what you’re used to seeing when you might think of the census, people coming to your door and knocking. But you know, that only happens if you don’t respond. And especially with what’s going on today, in this world, it’s even more important that we try to limit as much of the non-response follow-up workload as we can by going back one and self responding online at The non-response follow-up workload though, is something that we take very seriously, and we’ve completely digitized how that operation works. One of the most important things we’ve done is we made it, so it’s not a paper based operation. In 2010, they walked around with paper forms, they had a paper workload that they had to work on. In 2020, we’re proud that these staff workers will have iPhones, they’ll have the ability every morning when they wake up to download their caseload into their iPhone, they’re gonna be routed with an optimization on how to get their entire route done. And they’re gonna be able to take responses on that iPhone, really reducing any types of error, any types of issues. We’re really excited over 500,000 people could be hitting the streets over this late summer, early fall, in order to close out and get those who did not self-respond, their responses are part of this. One of the last things that comes in is once we get in all our responses, we have to tabulate the data we’ve got. And a really important mission to tabulate the data and to release the population counts, so that redistricting and many other critical aspects can happen. As you may have noticed, I left out in the last slide, that’s talking about the importance of census, which is voting. Now pending on your population is about how many congressmen and women you have representing your communities. And so based on the total population counts and redistricting, that’s how we determine that Electoral College. So that’s, again, something really important for those who may not understand the full lifecycle of census. And again, another reason why it’s so important for you to respond to the 2020 census. We’ll talk a little bit more on this in detail here on next slide.

Focusing on Digital Response

So what is the digital response? I talked a little bit about it on the last slide, but really, we’ve been working closely since the last census on being more digital and having a digital first mindset, and that means utilizing the internet. That means utilize our mobile phones, social media. So much has happened over the last 10 years. Think about the way that you get your news, how you get your updates, think about the way you interact with sometimes your friends or family. It’s picking up a phone, it’s FaceTime, let’s zoom, there’s a lot of different things that we had to think about and how people would want to complete the census. We made our website Mobile First, we really made it. We understood and we have seen, millions of people have come to our website on a cell phone. Many people are completing their 2020 census on their cell phone. We needed to make sure that we were digital first in doing that. And that’s really what the 2020 census was about when it came to our website, when it came to completing your census online. There’s data driven things behind this though, we wanted to understand and we’ve done really lots of focus groups, talked to a lot of industry, other governments, other governments abroad, about how we can leverage some of the insights from their customers. Let alone the decade long customers and Census Bureau has on how to drive improvements, how to understand how people wanna complete the census. What the importance, how to message the census. And as you all hopefully have done, this is the first time you are able to respond online at Again, also by phone or by mail. That’s a true huge forward step that we’re taking when it comes to resident interactions with the government. So again, our websites or technology is utilizing a variety of these things, these are multiple modes and devices that we knew we needed to take. You can also complete our internet self-response in 13 languages including English. You can also access our main landing page in over 50 languages. You don’t have to necessarily have that postcard we mailed you to complete the census, we have a complete non ID route as we call it. So if you’re on the metro, if you’re in the back of an Uber or something like that you can go on your phone and just shoot, that’s right, I got to do my census. You don’t need to wait until you get that form and go back to the house, you can complete that from your phone directly or your desktop. And certainly if you need help, and we realized that we live in a very diverse country, not only do we have all these internet languages available to complete the census, but we also have interactive guides, language guides that you can use and that will help drive response in those communities that English is not their first language. Let’s jump in and we’ll talk a little bit more in detail on this around digital communications.

Innovations in Digital Communications

Social media, we really needed to make sure that we were engaging people on social media. We know today a huge swath of the population, those who may not even have a desktop computer anymore are still utilizing their phones to go on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn, Nextdoor. And we’ve used those as great platforms to raise awareness about the census and the importance of complete. We recognize that those platforms are critical for digital advertising. One of the biggest things we saw as a success for us was our digital advertising. And the ability to really understand who the audience was, what kinds of conversations they were engaged in, understanding what audiences, went to different platforms and meeting them there in language, meeting them within their specific geography. So they understood the importance of the census for that geography level as well. All those things were critical when we were building out our digital work. Chatbot, so many of us have interacted with chatbots in a variety of ways. We saw chatbot is a great way to handle some of our frequently asked questions on Facebook, Twitter, and other places where we have it set up. It’s been a great and great service for us to be able to talk to the public about the census, when they’re asking us questions so that they can get quick and authoritative and accurate information via the chatbot.

One of the most important innovations that we worked on though, was partners, and recognizing the importance of partners in the 2020 census,. Technology partners in particular really came through for us and leveraging them to not only understand their subject matter expertise, about how to use their platforms, or how to use their technologies, but really their ability to engage their customers, to engage their employees about the importance of 2020 census and motivating them to respond as quickly as they could via self-response again, via the internet, paper or phone. These were definitely great things we’re excited about.

Technology Partnerships

Let’s move on a little bit and we can talk through those technology partnerships. The Census Bureau was really proactive in partnering with technology companies and platforms on the promotion of the census. We talked through that, we understood that this is something we can leverage them for. We needed them in order to engage with really diverse communities. Technology is not just about the same community, they’ve reached a lot of different companies, a lot of different communities. We also recognize that our technology partners can be hugely helpful in our effort to combat mis- and disinformation around the census. We worked very closely with some of our partners, those in particular around social media companies to identify ways and set up processes to flag inauthentic content, mis- and disinformation, threats, many other critical aspects that could hamper the ability to get a complete and accurate count. Establishing these processes, being able to report these cases to the platforms and what we call some of our back channels is absolutely critical. And we’re really proud of what we’ve built today to really fight the many rumors that we’ve seen, combating them and moving forward. So let’s talk a little bit about mis- and disinformation. So misinformation for those who may not know is inadvertently spreading, and we’ll talk through some examples, inadvertently spreading, inaccurate or misleading information, while disinformation is really doing that deliberately and often covertly spreading inaccurate information. In order to get a complete and accurate count, we need to be out there on the front lines, making sure that accurate and authoritative content from the US Census Bureau out there. And we have a team we call the Trust & Safety Team, dedicated to this. Let’s dive in a little bit and I’ll show you some of what the team is doing in order to combat this.

Trust & Safety

Our Trust & Safety Teamhas kind of three main pillars to what we do. Most importantly, prevention first. We worked as I said for many months before the census on perfection, on making sure we did everything we could with the platforms to be ready, so that they understood, they were educated. The teams were educated on the importance of census and what some of the possible threats may be when it comes to mis- and disinformation. To date with the census going on, we’ve been working very closely with our platform partners, as well as our team on site at the Census Bureau to detect and analyze threats. We’re continuously monitoring social and traditional media. We’re looking at trends, we’re looking at threat analysis, we have data experts digging into these things. We have alerts set up utilizing the latest in technology to understand what the conversations are to detect when conversations start to steer towards a specific rumor, and how we bring it back to the correct and authoritative content for the census. We’re also out there creating a safe environment. We’re engaging our partners, we’re being proactive about putting out our messaging and working through engagements with our partners to the general public about the importance of flagging mis- and disinformation. We want people to know that they can do that, they can do it safely, and that they can be a part, making sure that what people are seeing on these platforms is accurate and authoritative content.

Other things you can proactively generate positive and authoritative and accurate content as well. And that’s something we do on a regular basis. We’re really proud of the huge followings that our social media accounts have. And we use those to really combat mis- and disinformation when you start to see rumors out there. So when you think about it, all these functions together are what make the Trust & Safety Team what we are today, which I would say is extremely successful. Let’s dive in here a little bit further on the next slide. We will go and have a short video to talk a little bit about the 2020 census.

Complete the 2020 Census today!

– [Narrator] There will be parties again soon, and family gatherings. There will be parades, and sporting events, and concerts. To help our communities when they come back together, respond to the 2020 census now. Spend a few minutes online today to impact the next 10 years of healthcare, infrastructure, and education. Go to and respond today to make America’s tomorrow brighter. It’s time to shape our future. – Thank you again. I hope you really enjoyed that video, I hope you really enjoyed learning about the 2020 census and really how this is the first digital census. We’re thrilled to partner with so many of you, we’re thrilled to be a part of this presentation with you all. We really hope you enjoyed it. Please don’t forget to complete your census and encourage your community, family, your friends, your loved ones to get involved and complete their census as a part of their civic engagement every 10 years.

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About Zack Schwartz

U.S. Census Bureau

Zack Schwartz serves as a Deputy Division Chief at the U.S. Census Bureau, responsible for delivering critical systems in support of the 2020 Census. Schwartz leads the Trust & Safety Team, which protects the Bureau's reputation and the American public from malicious efforts to undermine the count. Schwartz was the Program Manager over the Decennial IT Program Management Office leading a complex budget and schedule in support of the 2020 Census systems. Schwartz holds a bachelor's degree in business administration from American University and currently resides in Washington D.C. where he is a Sworn Reserve Police Officer.