Urban Wire Three Tips for Planning Community Events to Prepare for the 2020 Census
Olivia Arena, Kathryn L.S. Pettit
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We are less than 100 days away from the 2020 Census. The census has wide-reaching implications for political representation, the allocation of resources, and our knowledge of America’s communities. 

Four local organizations in the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP), a network of local organizations coordinated by the Urban Institute, recently shared advice about hosting successful events to promote the 2020 Census to residents and other local stakeholders. NNIP Partner organizations ensure their communities have access to data and the skills to use those data to advance equity and well-being across neighborhoods.

Events are a powerful way to provide useful information about completing the 2020 Census and spur efforts to “get out the count.”

Based on their experiences, partners shared three tips on how best to engage communities:

1. Think about how your organization can contribute

Partner organizations are ideal census collaborators; they are already operating at the intersection of data and community engagement. Many are already playing crucial roles in analyzing data to guide their communities’ complete count efforts. NNIP Partners also bring together community-based organizations, local government officials, and residents around data. They serve as trusted messengers that reach grassroots organizations and provide them with powerful data for messaging or advocacy.

As analysts and translators, data organizations similar to NNIP Partners can bring more people into the census conversation by fostering community conversations around the value of census data.  Many NNIP Partners host Data Days, events with activities like map making, exploring open datasets, and creating data visualizations. 

From this experience, NNIP Partners know to adapt format and content for different audiences. Other types of local organizations may bring different skill sets and connections that support complete count efforts. Also, organizations hosting events don’t have to be the expert on all things census; they can bring in US Census Bureau representatives or others to share expertise.

2. Shape your event around specific community needs

Every place has different political, institutional, and funding contexts for promoting the 2020 Census, but hosting events can be a valuable strategy everywhere. One way organizations are plugging into community census infrastructure is through their local or state Complete Count Committees (CCCs).

As one state-level example, Oregon’s CCC is facilitating sharing across its local jurisdictions planning for the census. Our Portland Partner, the Population Research Center at Portland State University, cohosted an event titled Making Oregon Count 2020 with other nonprofit organizations, supported by the Oregon CCC.  The day-long convening brought together local officials, intergovernmental organizations, and nonprofit and grassroots organizations to collaborate around complete count strategies. Participant takeaways included the importance of addressing misinformation and understanding the impact of differential privacy (PDF).

Some places, including five states, do not have complete count committees. This includes Texas, which has no dedicated state resources for census outreach.

Our San Antonio Partner, Community Information Now (CI:Now), found ways to weave 2020 Census information into events hosted by other coalitions with a stake in an accurate count. Specifically, CI:Now coordinated a panel at their annual Alamo Regional Data Alliance convening on the 2020 Census, featuring their local census administrator and partnership liaison and made presentations to early childhood coalitions.

CI:Now also hosted a training on the new census website and took the opportunity to highlight the importance of an accurate and fair 2020 Census. For other organizations interested in this strategy, the Census Bureau’s data dissemination branch provides free trainings on using census data.

3. Craft your event with the audience in mind

A tailored message is essential to convey the importance of a complete count in 2020 in ways that resonate with specific audiences. For instance, testing has shown that demonstrating how an inaccurate count puts local government funding at risk can make the urgency of the census more tangible.

Most recently, our Pittsburgh Partner, the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center, hosted a census-themed Data Day at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh with other community-based partners for participants with varying levels of comfort with data.  

The hosts wanted to share three main messages with participants:

  • how to complete the 2020 Census
  • why the census matters
  • how to get involved in get out the count efforts, including paid job opportunities

Community partners were able to talk to people about how the census is used for political redistricting and shared the types of services and programs with census-based funding. Volunteers also drew upon the Creatives for the Count Toolkit to create census-themed memes, games, and art.


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The Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center’s Data Day featured a census quiz. Photo by Bob Gradeck.

Events can also engage audiences more familiar with data.  For example, our Milwaukee Partner, Data You Can Use, regularly convenes people working with health data at Health Data Users Group meetings, including neighborhood groups, government agencies, public health students, and staff from health systems and hospitals.

As part of their series, they hosted the Director of the Greater Milwaukee Complete Count Committee to describe Milwaukee’s efforts toward a complete count and ideas for future activities (PDF). The director shared ideas for action tailored to the participants, such as how to integrate 2020 Census messaging into their daily work and ways to encourage census participation in their regular communications.

It’s not too late to get involved

Because Census Day 2020 is quickly approaching, the window to host large-scale, strategy-focused events is narrowing. However, organizations can shift the focus of their events to raising awareness about census logistics, like what to expect in filling out the census form. The scale and structure of events may differ, but organizations like NNIP Partners can use this community engagement strategy as a part of their efforts to achieve a complete count in their communities.  


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