Next Century Cities’ 2020 Census Kiosk Toolkit
Next Century Cities is a non-profit membership organization of over 200 communities, founded to support communities and their elected leaders, including mayors and other officials, as they seek to ensure that all have access to fast, affordable, and reliable internet access. Next Century Cities celebrates broadband successes in communities, demonstrates their value, and helps other cities to realize the full power of truly high-speed, affordable, and accessible broadband.
Why does the census matter to local governments?
Census data is used in several ways that have a direct impact on municipalities and their communities:
“Census data has consequences that can last a lifetime because it is used by policy makers and urban planners to shape the future of our cities’ infrastructure—including schools, parks, highways, public transportation, hospitals, libraries, police and fire departments. Urban quality of life issues that directly impact communities for decades—such as where a new park or school should be built—depend on an accurate count.”
– Kyla Fullenwider and Louisville, Ky. Mayor Greg Fischer, Can Cities Save the Census? A Local Framework for Our Nation’s First Digital Count
How and when people will be counted in 2020?
There are three ways that individuals can respond to the census: online at the Census Bureau’s website, by phone, or by mail. While recommended, it’s not required to have a census ID number or address to respond online or over the phone.
Census Day is April 1, 2020, and most people will be able to respond online or by phone or mail throughout March and April. Households will start receiving invitations to complete the census online in March 2020 – the online form opens on March 12 – and by Census Day on April 1, every household will have received an invitation to participate. Those who do not respond by April 30 will be visited by a Census Bureau worker between May and July.
Individuals are counted at their usual place of residence. Individuals occupying nontraditional housing will be counted over specific timeframes:
- People experiencing homelessness will be counted at service locations, such as soup kitchens or shelters, between March 30 and April 1
- People living in “transitory locations,” such as RV parks or motels, will be counted where they sleep in April
- People living in group quarters, such as college on-campus housing, nursing homes, or correctional facilities, will be counted at those locations between April and June
Who is hard to count, and why?
The Census Bureau has recognized various sociodemographic and other groups as historically “hard-to-count”:
- Complex households, including those with blended families, multi-generations, or non-relatives
- Cultural and linguistic minorities
- Displaced persons affected by a disaster
- LGBTQ+ persons
- Low-income individuals
- People experiencing homelessness
- Those less likely to use the internet, and others without internet access
- People residing in places difficult for enumerators to access, such as basement apartments or gated communities
- People residing in rural or geographically isolated areas
- People who do not live in traditional housing
- People who do not speak English fluently, or have limited proficiency
- Those who have distrust in the government
- Individuals with mental or physical disabilities
- Those without a high school diploma
- Racial and ethnic minorities
- Undocumented or recent immigrants
- Young children
- Young, mobile persons
As the Government Accountability Office explains, “There are complex reasons why certain groups are considered hard-to-count. According to Bureau officials, for example, one way to think about the hard-to-count problem is to consider what groups are hard to locate, contact, persuade, and interview for the census.”
Those who are hard to count are often those who are underrepresented and underserved in other ways, and it’s important to note that hard-to-count categories are not mutually exclusive and difficulties can quickly be compounded. Thoughtful and intentional work on the part of local governments and community organizations and advocates is necessary to ensure that hard to count populations are counted and receive equitable representation and resources.
How will 2020 – the first online census – offer new challenges?
Historically, the census has always been completed using paper forms. But in 2020, the census will be conducted primarily online for the first time. While there will still be options to respond with a paper form or via phone, most homes will receive an invitation to complete the census online. New America created a guide to the online census response (including screenshots!), available here.
While an online census could cut costs, it also has serious implications for hard to count communities, who are often less likely to have reliable internet access and/or digital literacy skills.
A report led by the Leadership Conference Education Fund explains that “historically, the census has undercounted young children, people of color, rural residents, and low-income households at higher rates than other population groups.” Congruently, data from the Pew Research Center shows that the same populations (with the exception of young children, who are not represented in the data) are less likely to have home broadband access or to own a smartphone.
The Census Advisory Committee’s Administrative Records, Internet, and Hard to Count Population Working Group reported that: “Given what we have learned, it appears that vulnerable hard-to-count populations will continue to be hard to enumerate even with advances in uses of internet technology and administrative data matching.”
With new emphasis on online census participation, vulnerable populations are perhaps more at risk than ever of being undercounted, which could result in underrepresentation when districts are drawn and underallocation of resources and services. Read more about the implications of an online census from Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel here.
What can local governments do to encourage online responses?
Local governments are well positioned to work with stakeholders and implement programs to encourage online census responses. Local leaders should make a point of engaging with groups that are already doing work to address digital access and literacy, such as libraries. Organizations such as these often have resources in place to help, and are engaged with communities that would most benefit.
Municipalities can consider working with internet service providers to make public internet access temporarily available to help individuals respond to the census online. Some nonprofits are already working to make hotspots available for this purpose.
Local governments can also implement programs to make public devices, or “kiosks,” available for online census participation. Deploying internet-connected kiosks in public places across the community can help remove barriers to participating in the census online, such as access to a device or a home internet connection. Public kiosks also make it easy for people to complete the census in places that they already spend time, such as in line at the post office or in the library.
Many local governments have designed creative kiosk programs in efforts to make online census participation more accessible. Outlines of these programs, as well as resources to help any municipality design and deploy its own census kiosk program, are available below.
Leveraging Kiosks to Encourage Census Participation
The city and county of Los Angeles and Santa Clara County each offer different kiosk program models that any municipality can adapt using the tools available in this toolkit.
What is a kiosk? For the purposes of this toolkit, a kiosk is any public device that is dedicated temporarily to providing a means for individuals to complete the census online. Kiosks may be desktop computers in a library or tablets set up at the post office, for example. Existing public devices may be converted into kiosks for the duration of the census, or communities can purchase or rent new devices to deploy at strategic locations.
The city and county of Los Angeles are deploying Census Action Kiosks that residents can use to complete the census. The kiosks are existing internet-connected computers or tablets that will be set to display the Census Bureau’s website, and are being deployed in city and county buildings and in partner locations across the region. The city itself is deploying about 200 kiosks, and is estimating that 900 will be deployed across the county in total. The kiosks are scheduled to become available in mid-March 2020.
Santa Clara County is renting over 100 tablets with the specific purpose of deploying them as census participation kiosks. The tablets will be locked so that they can only access the Census Bureau’s page, and will be deployed at key community organizations’ locations throughout the county, such as at libraries and senior centers.
Additionally, city and county of Los Angeles locations may have staff or volunteers on-hand to answer questions about the census and the kiosk, and can provide digital literacy and language assistance to users. For example, staff can answer questions about how to use the devices, and can help individuals find a census response option in their preferred language. If partner locations don’t have personnel available, they can partner with the city of Los Angeles to recruit volunteers. In Santa Clara County, kiosk locations will be either manned with staff or placed in close proximity to frontline staff of other county programs or services.
Careful documentation of kiosk deployments is central to both communities’ plans. Los Angeles County is developing an interactive map of kiosk locations, which will serve both to ensure that people are able to locate the kiosks, and so that the city and county may evaluate whether kiosks are being adequately deployed in regions that have been historically hard to count. Santa Clara County is working to build out a list of all kiosk locations, and will use the list in efforts to integrate census information into other public services.
Both counties created Complete Count Committees to organize and plan census initiatives in their communities. In Los Angeles, the city and county worked together to create a collaborative committee to coordinate census strategy. The committee includes a specific Census Action Kiosk Subcommittee that meets every other month. In addition, the city of Los Angeles has a census strategy working group that coordinates efforts among city departments.
Santa Clara County’s Executive Office selected members to serve on the Complete Count Steering Committee, which works with local kiosk implementation partners to ensure all are counted. The county’s Complete Count Committee in turn creates a place for cross-sector collaboration on census efforts.
The city and county of Los Angeles and Santa Clara County have each implemented slightly different kiosk programs, but both prioritize best practices such as community collaboration, leveraging existing resources, and clear communication and documentation. Municipal governments across the country can design kiosk programs to fit their community and encourage census participation.
The following resources can be freely downloaded, adapted, and used by municipal governments and their partners to design and deploy census kiosk programs tailored to the community.
Outreach and organization
A municipal proclamation that recognizes the importance of the census and formally announces a local initiative can help legitimize efforts and put a project into motion. Find a template proclamation to edit and use here. This template is based on Fort Collins, Colo.’s proclamation.
Establishing a Complete Count Committee – a volunteer committee established by state, local, or tribal governments and community leaders – is an essential first step to engaging stakeholders and developing a census strategy that will work in your community. First, use the Census Bureau’s database of existing Complete Count Committees to see if a committee has already been established. This tool is also helpful for reaching out to neighboring localities to coordinate efforts. Find the Census Bureau’s complete guide to establishing a committee here.
Many Complete Count Committees have been established with a subcommittee structure. A community pursuing a kiosk initiative may want to establish a kiosk-specific subcommittee in order to convene deployment partners. Find a template subcommittee meeting agenda to edit and use here. The template is based on the agenda for the city and county of Los Angeles’ first Census Action Kiosk Subcommittee meeting. Explore Los Angeles’ other meeting agendas and materials here. The city of Chattanooga, Tennessee created a helpful worksheet for determining census plans in committee meetings, available here.
Find additional planning resources from the Census Bureau below:
Kiosks should be available for the duration of the census response period:
March 12, 2020: Online form opens
April 1, 2020: Census Day – everyone has received an invitation to respond
Through April 30, 2020: Primary response period
May 1-July 31, 2020: Census Bureau’s Nonresponse Followup Operation (NRFU) takes place
Kiosk programs should be operating in full force during the primary response period from March 12 through April 30, with kiosks remaining publicly available through the end of July.
Determine what devices will serve as kiosks. The Los Angeles model takes advantage of existing desktops and tablets, owned either by the city or county or by partner host locations. Alternatively, Santa Clara County rented over 100 tablets to serve as kiosks.
Communities that are seeking access to affordable devices to use as kiosks can reach out to PCs for People. PCs for People is a national leader in digital inclusion with a mission to provide equal and affordable access to technology for income eligible individuals and nonprofits. Each computer is professionally refurbished and comes with certified Windows 10 operating system, keyboard, mouse, power cords, 1-year warranty, and free shipping. PCs for People also offers mobile hotspots at a low monthly subscription rate. Both the computers and internet hotspots meet the basic device requirements to serve as a kiosk.
Host partners & space guidelines
Engaging partners to host kiosks is an important way to ensure that the program is reaching as many corners of the community as possible.
Requirements for host partners can include:
- Have a computer that meets the above device requirements
- Outfit kiosk stations with branding materials
- Maintain regular office hours
- Make kiosks available through the end of the census Non-Response Follow Up period, July 31, 2020
- Be ADA accessible
- If possible, have staff or volunteers on-site who have been trained to answer questions and provide tech, language, and literacy assistance (see more information about staffing below)
The features of the space in which kiosks are hosted make a world of difference. Libraries Without Borders, a nonprofit that has worked to deploy computer labs in community laundromats across the country, suggests the following in order to make public kiosk locations inviting and user-friendly:
- When working in public spaces, it’s important to find a place that is both highly visibly to patrons, and that match the comfortability of the owner or manager of the space.
- Colors and signage matter. If you are transforming a non-traditional space into a learning space, it’s important to have info about it posted everywhere. People will not intuitively know that services are for them, so signs that say “yes, please use us!” will go a long way. Having standard signage and communications – in the languages that community members speak – across all kiosk locations can help people know that a location is an official, trusted kiosk.
In order to reach all corners of the community, engage with host partners who are already established and trusted, and where people often have extra time that they could use to complete the census. Suggestions include, but are not limited to:
- Health care facilities
- Religious institutions
- Post office
- Local businesses
- Department of Motor Vehicles
- Community centers
Documentation & mapping
It’s important to track and document kiosk locations both so that people and partners know where to find them, and so that it can be evaluated whether kiosks are being sufficiently deployed in parts of the community that are at risk of being undercounted.
The Los Angeles County Internal Services Department created an interactive online map to document proposed kiosk locations across the county. The map interface also provides an opportunity to offer feedback on proposed locations, to suggest additional locations, and to ask questions about the program or submit suggestions. Alternatively, Santa Clara County created a list of all kiosk locations plans to distribute the list at government service and partner locations.
There are different methods for effectively documenting kiosk locations, but a helpful catalog will include information about the kiosk device, hours of operation, and available on-site assistance.
Kiosks can be much more effective if staff or volunteers are present to answer questions and provide assistance to users. Some kiosk locations may have staff on-site that can be trained to provide support, while other locations may require a volunteer presence. Common areas of support include:
- Answering basic questions about the census and its purpose. The United Way Bay Area created a “Train the Trainer” slide deck that outlines key points about the census that trainers should know. AARP has a variety of resources, including workshop materials and informational videos.
- Providing literacy and language assistance (the online census will only be available in 12 non-English languages). Student volunteers can be especially helpful when it comes to supporting language communities.
- Providing technology skills assistance.
- Addressing concerns about data confidentiality and security. The Census Bureau provides fact sheets about the 2020 Census: Safety and Security and How the Census Bureau Protects Your Data.
Staff may assist individuals in completing the census, however, should make it clear that they do not represent the Census Bureau. See below from the Census Bureau’s guidelines for partners:
Only Census Bureau employees may collect responses directly from individuals. If you are providing devices for individuals to provide their own responses online, do not enter that individual’s responses for them or watch them enter their responses. In other words, devices should not be “staffed.”
Stakeholders should create an environment where individuals can respond without interference. This environment should ensure that someone’s responses cannot be seen by anyone unless they are a sworn Census Bureau employee…
If a member of the public requests assistance in completing their form, please direct them to thee response option (online, phone, mail/paper, census taker visit to the home) that best suits their needs… If they still request your assistance with online response, you can provide this assistance but please inform them that you are not a Census Bureau employee and therefore their answers are not protected by law with you.
Read more on staffing guidelines from the Census Bureau here.
Spreading the word
Ideally, communications efforts about the program should begin well before the kiosks go live, so that community members are familiar with the census, what the kiosks are, and how to use them. The following can be easily customized and used:
The Census Bureau also provides a graphics bank that can help bolster communications efforts.
Engagement is often most successful when communities are met at the spaces and organizations with which they are already engaged and spending time.
In the communities they work with, Libraries Without Borders hosts free laundry days at participating laundromats in order to promote their technology programs. In 2020, Libraries Without Borders is partnering with a laundromat in Baltimore to host a Census Day Party. The computers at the participating laundromats’ technology centers will be preset to have the Census Bureau’s site as the homepage. After the event, the original homepage will include an icon to click and complete the census. Libraries Without Borders is also partnering with local community associations and nonprofits to have volunteers present that speak English and Spanish to assist laundromat patrons. Find Libraries Without Borders’ free laundry day event checklist here.
Many other groups have produced valuable resources to help prepare for the Census: