Census tech: How to count every person

census-tech:-how-to-count-every-person

Ditas Katague, director of California Complete Count, explains why the US census matters and how tech can help every voice be counted.

Dan Patterson, senior producer for CNET and CBS News, spoke with Ditas Katague, director of the California Complete Count Committee, an advisory panel of community leaders who work to recommend strategies to increase the census count in their communities. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Ditas Katague: Both technology and data, we’ve really used them to really target our efforts. If you think about, in a state of 40.3 million people, how do you really figure out who you’re going to spend your energy on and our resources to reach? Because the US Census Bureau is going to focus on reaching everybody. We use data and data visualization tools. You’re familiar with GIS (geographic information systems) and the company Esri, we’ve partnered with them to take the data that we would have used on paper and spreadsheets back in 2000 and 2010, and we’ve put it into a visual format, which is so cool, that everyone who’s maybe low-tech, as well as people who are very high tech and used to this, can use to target our efforts, to basically educate and motivate folks to respond. The Census Bureau has their demographic variables that make people least likely respond.

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We took that baseline of data and we created our own California hard-to-count index. And then we visualize that. If you think about where people are in a census tract, maybe they live in crowded buildings, maybe they’re limited English-proficient. They could be under the poverty line. We use all those variables to figure out where they are on the map, really, and in their neighborhoods to be able to get to them. The great thing about we’ve been planning this for over three years, but right now, as the count is going on, the Census Bureau is releasing on a daily basis, self-response data, census tract, by a geographic area. We overlay that in the map, so we can see how well neighborhoods are doing. We can say, “Hey, this neighborhood over here in East Sacramento, their response rate’s really high.” But over there in South Sacramento, we can visually see on a map how low their response rates are.

Then we can redeploy efforts to do outreach targeted, both outreach as well as media. You can see stuff by neighborhood and on the map. It’s not surprising that people are like, “What is this? I don’t even remember doing it.” But it’s important for folks to know that it’s really two, almost three things. I always say it’s about power, money, and data, of course, that’s what we’re talking about. The power piece is they use the count, the population after we finished the count, to reapportion the 435 congressional seats. That’s really important, to make sure that we all have a voice in Washington DC. They also use the data to redistrict here locally, all the way down from our Assembly and Senate seats down to school boards. That’s really the power piece, having a voice, making sure that everyone is visible. 

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And then the money piece. I always say, every April tax season, although it’s now spread out to July, there’s money going from my bank account electronically, an electronic sucking sound to the Federal Treasury. And it’s every single year, right? But only once a decade, years ending with zero, do I have the right and all of you have the right to say, “Bring those dollars back to our communities for roads, for schools, for health clinics.” That’s the money piece of it. And then the data piece is really about, I mean, I think about it as mapping because I’m a very visual person. Businesses and foundations use it to be like, “Where’s the next Trader Joe’s going to be? Where are we going to put our next job-creating warehouse? Where are we going to do that?” The data piece is so key, we often forget about that.

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Dan Patterson, senior producer for CNET and CBS News, spoke with Ditas Katague, director of the California Complete Count Committee, an advisory panel of community leaders who work to recommend strategies to increase the census count in their communities.

Image: Dan Patterson