Our democratic institutions have never been more important or more vulnerable and the United States Census is no exception. Since 1790, we have conducted a count of our nation’s population to determine both congressional apportionment and the annual distribution of federal funding. The Census provides our nation’s foundational dataset, the basis upon which so much other data is based. It is used in research, algorithms, journalism, business, and infrastructure planning among other things. In many ways it creates the reality upon which our institutions, our lives, and our futures are built. It is the people’s data: a shared public asset that is becoming increasingly important in a data-driven world.
It is in this context that, for the first time in 2020, millions of U.S. residents will use their phones, computers, tablets, and laptops to respond to the constitutionally mandated survey while hundreds of thousands of federal workers will use handheld electronic devices to conduct the decennial count in real time.
Our nation’s first “digital” census presents myriad opportunities for a truly participatory count, but a confluence of new issues threatens to undermine its integrity. As our country gears up to embark on this national modernization effort of enormous consequence—our nation’s largest non-wartime effort—we need new strategies and tactics to navigate our politically charged, digital world. And these strategies and tactics should be deployed by a broad range of contributors, including leading digital platforms, civil society, media outlets, and local governments.
2020 Census: Digital Preparedness Playbook
In 2020, for the first time, millions of U.S. residents can respond online to the census, hundreds of thousands of federal workers will use handheld devices to conduct the decennial count, and news about the census will travel through social media channels in real time.