The August 2019 meeting of the SF Tech Council focused on the upcoming Census and the role technology will play in enumerating San Francisco’s nearly 900,000 residents. With every census, there are challenges, especially when it comes to counting hard-to-reach populations which include the homeless, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
Census 2020, however, poses some unique challenges; it will be nation’s inaugural digital-first census. In a break with the past when every household in the United States and its overseas territories received a paper form in the mail, the Census Bureau will focus on obtaining data from participants using an online platform. In San Francisco alone, 4,500 households do not have broadband access and many more lack the computer literacy skills to participate fully. Coupled with widespread anxiety about the Census in immigrant communities and the lack of trust in the government to protect information, ensuring an accurate count will be difficult.
Robert Clinton, 2020 Census Project Manager, Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs (OCEIA), the City Department tasked with overseeing San Francisco’s 2020 Census campaign, stressed the importance of making sure that everyone is counted. The Census results determine the level of political representation at the national, state-wide, and local levels as well as how much money the federal government makes available to California residents for infrastructure, programs, and services. The fiscal impact of an undercount is substantial—a loss of between $10,000-$20,0000 for every uncounted individual over the next 10 years. A copy of Robert’s presentation is available for download.
In order to achieve full participation, OCEIA is administering more than $2 million in grants to organizations around San Francisco to conduct hard-to-count community outreach. In addition, the office will set up internet cafes, launch an independent website, offer training, and deploy a ground crew of people who go door-to-door.
Bret Putnam, Partnership Specialist at the U.S. Census Office, provided an overview of the types of Census-related job opportunities that will be available. Paid training for Census employees starts in March 2020 and work will be conducted from mid-March to the end of July. Teams of NFRU (nonresponse follow up) census enumerators, for example, will go door-to-door after a household has received three invitations to participate. Putnam emphasized that “in order to make the Census happen, the government needs to partner with local organizations.” To that end, his office has people available to do presentations in a variety of languages to foster these relationships.
Sam Reeve, Marketing & Development Associate at CommunityConnect Labs, outlined the efforts of his organization to enable government and community-based organizations to engage hard-to-reach communities using mobile messaging. Reeve pointed out that 90% of low-income people have mobile phones, 95% of texts are read within three minutes of being sent, and texting is usually free with most data plans. Leveraging the potential of texting, CommunityConnect Labs contracts with government agencies and nonprofit organizations to provide the following digital, mobile phone-based solutions for Census outreach with hard-to-count populations:
- An automated, multi-lingual Help Desk that processes natural language to answer constituents’ questions through mobile messaging or the web;
- A Community Motivator engagement platform for organizations to educate and activate constituents through making a digital pledge to complete the Census;
- A Misinformation Reporter, addresses mis/disinformation through creating mobile messaging networks for reporting and information sharing;
- A Field Staff Recruiter provides job application field support through screening candidates for eligibility, providing training, and following up with applicants.
Reeves pointed out that the reason these solutions are so effective is that constituents receive texts from organizations they trust rather than an anonymous or unfamiliar entity. A copy of Sam’s presentation is available for download.