Every 10 years our country undertakes the monumental task of counting individuals in every household across the country. It’s an all-hands-on-deck effort to ensure the information is accurate, including support from researchers, communities, elected leaders, and businesses.
In February 2019, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and the Northern California Grantmakers invited the Bipartisan Policy Center to participate in its Corporate Philanthropy Institute to specifically describe why the census matters for business and what the business community can do to be involved. Here are the key reasons and strategies I offered during the discussion:
Businesses rely on quality census data because the information provides insights about population dynamics and available markets. The census data are also used by businesses to conduct other household surveys with detailed market insights for the years that follow a census. Collectively this information helps businesses figure out where to put new facilities and establishments, and how to understand the market segment that they seek to serve.
If census data aren’t accurate or have limited quality, businesses may face challenges in making good decisions, which can affect their bottom lines. For example, undercounting people in the country means there will be some error associated with particular areas or subpopulations, which impacts strategies for efficiently providing services that can increase costs.
While an accurate count matters, it is especially difficult to achieve because of known hard-to-count populations. During the 2010 census, for example, children under 5 years old were an especially difficult segment of the population to capture accurately.
Recognizing the value of census data and the risks of inaccurate information from an undercount, every business and organization can play some role in ensuring a fair and accurate census.
In 2010, some companies engaged in opportunities to educate their clients or employees, while others went far beyond to support broad engagement with the public. Nickelodeon used Dora the Explorer to reach children. Target and Best Buy promoted the census in their stores, including displaying notices on television screens. Utilities promoted with inserts to monthly bills. Google enabled maps about participation rates. AT&T developed a strategy for sending census information to friends through mobile devices.
In coming weeks, the Census Bureau will begin to announce innovative partnerships for 2020. Because this will be the first online census, there are countless new opportunities to counteract misinformation campaigns, support cybersecurity efforts, and provide opportunities for awareness and responsiveness among hard-to-count populations.
The Census Bureau is seeking formal partners to identify appropriate opportunities for engagement. In addition, numerous foundations are coordinating other activities to encourage participation.
What strategy is most appropriate or useful for any business or organization will vary. But there is most certainly a role for everyone to encourage a high-quality census and participate in activities that make it accurate.