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Partners Think Outside the Box to Reach Everyone in 2020

Shira Cavanaugh

If a celebrity asked you to complete the 2020 Census, would you do it? What about a business leader? Or your local pastor or city council member?

What if completing the census was as easy as opening your internet browser or stopping by your local library? And what if your ride share driver could tell you how your census participation would help your community?

With the help of partners, all of this could happen. When organizations come together around a common goal — whether they’re national, local, big, small, nonprofit or for-profit — their combined resources, experience and ideas can make a real impact.

“Bringing a diverse group of leaders together to generate new ideas that are tailored, specifically to the people they serve, leads to impactful solutions.”

— Burton Reist, U.S. Census Bureau assistant director for communications

Ahead of the 2020 Census, in cities like Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., Chicago, College Park, Md., Jackson, Miss., Los Angeles and Seattle, organizations are doing just that.

In brainstorming sessions, known as Census Solutions Workshops, national and local leaders are teaming up to identify critical areas of focus for the 2020 Census and develop ideas and new partnerships to tackle them.

“Each community has its own challenges to a complete count,” said Burton Reist, assistant director for communications. “Bringing a diverse group of leaders together to generate new ideas that are tailored, specifically to the people they serve, leads to impactful solutions.”


In Seattle, King County and Seattle Foundation hosted a Census Solutions Workshop last September.

Participants representing government, foundations, community-based organizations, academia and tech companies formed teams to brainstorm how to use digital platforms to counter the spread of misinformation. The teams came up with ways to best coordinate and activate the business and philanthropic communities around the 2020 Census.

Ideas included: engaging celebrities, athletes and sports teams as messengers; partnering with companies like Uber and Lyft to encourage drivers to combat misinformation; and bringing diverse community organizations together to create culturally relevant census messages.


Participants present their recommendations for strengthening 2020 Census outreach in Seattle at a Census Solutions Workshop on Sept. 25, 2018.


At an October workshop in Chicago, groups brainstormed how to improve response rates among historically hard-to-count populations in Illinois — including African-American men ages 18-24, mobile millennials and people experiencing homelessness.

The event was hosted by Forefront, an Illinois membership association for nonprofits, grant-makers, public agencies, advisers and their supporters, along with the Public Library Association, Voices for Illinois Children and the Field Foundation.

Participants discussed how community institutions can serve as hubs for 2020 Census outreach, including resources needed to help people respond online at local libraries and via mobile stations like vans.


The U.S. Census Bureau’s Cathy Hartz talks with Illinois workshop participants as they cluster their 2020 Census ideas to identify themes at a workshop on Oct. 25, 2018.

College Park

Considering challenges in counting students in College Park and other historically hard-to-count populations in Prince George’s County, Md., Gloria Aparicio Blackwell, director of the University of Maryland’s Office of Community Engagement, said her team felt they needed to roll up their sleeves and get engaged.

Together with the university’s Academy of Innovation & Entrepreneurship, United Way of the National Capital Area and College Park Scholars they hosted a workshop in November.

“We married our design thinking tools with the goals of the upcoming 2020 Census to identify ways to help us count not just students, but also the surrounding community,” Blackwell said.

Students, university and community leaders came together and used “design thinking” to develop targeted 2020 Census outreach strategies. This type of design thinking is a process and mindset for innovation that begins with empathy to identify and understand problems and needs.

Ideas included sending informational materials home with children, training bus drivers to distribute 2020 Census handouts, and targeting grandparents to reach children under the age of 5, who often go uncounted in the census.


Before developing outreach strategies, participants work to better understand their target audiences at the University of Maryland workshop on Nov. 10, 2018.

Jackson, Atlanta, Charlotte and Los Angeles

In Jackson, Miss., the state chapters of the National Urban League and KIDS COUNT, and the City of Jackson, hosted a workshop to discuss obstacles historically hard-to-count communities encounter around the decennial census.

In Atlanta, the Annie E. Casey Foundation incorporated two workshops into its October National KIDS COUNT conference.

In Charlotte, the National Association of Development Organizations hosted a workshop during its 2018 annual training conference.

And in Los Angeles, the National League of Cities conducted a workshop with city-level elected officials to support the creation of local Complete Count Committees.


In Jackson, Miss., participants at a workshop on Nov. 13, 2018, present their recommendations for reaching historically hard-to-count populations.

To help people in your community better understand how the decennial census impacts their lives and come together to create tangible opportunities for civic action, download our Census Solutions Workshop toolkit and host a workshop.

Shira Cavanaugh is the National Partnership Program's communications manager at the Census Bureau.


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