I was in a small town in California two weeks ago, and was on the lookout for a birthday card for my nephew.  I wandered into a small “alternative” card shop and found a really cool Hindu-themed birthday card.  My nephew’s not Hindu, but I like to keep him on his toes, so I bought it.

I walked over to the post office across the street to mail it, and was surprised to see a table there that was manned by a temporary U.S. Census worker.  Above the table was a sign that said, “Census Questions Answered Here”.  I can never resist a census worker, so I wandered over and asked her what type of questions she was fielding.

None yet, I was told, because the census forms had not yet been delivered.  They were being proactive, I guess, so I won’t second-guess that.  So I asked what types of questions they were expecting.  Atop the basic questions about content and how to answer certain questions, the friendly census worker showed me her various language forms, 60 or more, with instructions in languages ranging from Somali to Polish to Creole, and said that language was a likely issue.  So she was prepared for Problem #1, which was making sure that people could understand the forms.

Problem #2 was access.  This was a small town with significant “informal housing” by an immigrant workforce, so she mentioned that many residents live in informal housing such as garages, spare rooms, and other homes without formal addresses.  Making sure that all of these people receive census forms was a potential problem, so much so that they were actually hand-delivering the forms rather than mailing them.  So Problem #2 was making sure that everyone had access to a form, which is another reason to have a physical presence at the post office.

And finally, she mentioned the big picture.  Why are people receiving these forms?  Why should they fill them out?  The census worker was ready and prepared to talk to people about all the reasons to fill out a census form.

Of course, they were doing the same thing that we at Corona do, but on a larger scale.  Anyone can throw questions up on survey monkey or zoomerang and generate numbers.  The key, though, and the hard part, is to generate accurate numbers and relevant numbers that truly answer your questions.   On surveys, you do this by making sure that you’re reaching a representative portion of the population, by making sure they understand what they’re being asked, and by maximizing their likelihood of responding.  On a census, you do this by making sure that you reach everybody, by making sure they understand what they’re being asked, and by maximizing their likelihood of responding.  And you do this via good distribution and by explaining the value of what you’re doing.

Kudoes to the people at the Census Bureau for their hard work in making sure that the government – and Corona Insights – has good census data to analyze for our clients.

What do we do with Census data once it is released?  Check out our services to find out some of the ways we utilize census data.