Census 2019

The Question

How can the U.S. Census Bureau address respondent concerns and increase participation in household surveys?

The Team

  • Alison Chen

  • Jessica Nunez

  • Mahesh C.R.

  • Tiffany Yu

  • Vishnu Rajeev


The Story

The U.S. Census Bureau collects data about people and the economy. While many of us are aware of the decennial survey to count the number of people in the United States, the Census Bureau also conducts over 100 smaller-scale surveys of households and businesses, which are critical in providing important economic and social data that help in policymaking.

Unfortunately, the response rate to Census Bureau surveys has decreased by more than ten percent in the last decade. Additionally, field representatives report a trend of growing mistrust and skepticism among respondents.

Our team set out to learn more about why people might not complete a Census Bureau survey and the concerns and questions that respondents have. We uncovered five major reasons why people don’t respond to surveys:

  • Concerns about the legitimacy of the survey, process, and interviewer

  • Lack of awareness of the purpose of surveys

  • Fears about privacy and potential data breaches

  • Growing distrust in government

  • People simply not being in the mood to fill out surveys

 With this information, we brainstormed over 100 ideas about how to address these concerns, prototyped five of the most impactful solutions, and tested these with potential respondents. Based on our findings from these interviews, we recommend that the Census Bureau think bigger about when they connect with people and who they reach out to. In addition to improving current solutions for respondents who are already in the survey process, the Census Bureau should establish new touchpoints before and after the survey itself to provide introductory and follow-up information. Further, as any American resident could be selected for a survey someday, the Census Bureau should target the U.S. population as a whole to increase general goodwill about household surveys and the agency itself.