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GIS Is Lowering Costs and Raising Access to the 2020 Census

The U.S. Census Bureau’s use of GIS mapping technology has helped defray rising costs, streamlined operations and made the Census more accessible than ever to communities across the country.

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New advances in technology have propelled the 2020 Census into the 21st Century. Historically, the U.S. Census Bureau has relied on largely similar processes to collect the vital demographic information for the U.S. Census. Now, with the aim to cut costs and improve collection methods, the Census Bureau introduced the use of Geographic Information Systems, an arsenal of mapping tools that serve to gather, manage, analyze and visualize data in ways that are more dynamic. By using GIS, the Census Bureau has projected it will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of operations.

“Our goal is to count everyone once, only once, and in the right place,” says Deirdre Dalpiaz Bishop, the chief of the U.S. Census Bureau’s geography division. “Geography establishes a foundation to build the Census using a good list of addresses and maps. Counting people in the right place is a critical component to every Census.”

Bishop is optimistic about how incorporating GIS tools from providers such as Esri will improve efficiency for the agency when it comes to collecting demographic information for the 2020 Census.

The bureau’s technicians were able to categorize and validate 65% of the addresses in the nation while working in the office, leaving only 35% to be validated in the field prior to inviting people to respond to the Census. Instead of hiring 150,000 employees to validate resident addresses, the bureau will only have to hire about 40,000 to verify the remaining 35% of addresses in the field.

Moreover, the use of GIS will be able to expand access and representation across the U.S. population to better account for “hard-to-count” groups such as minorities, renters and young children. The 2020 Census has secured a way to digitally reach U.S. residents. Non-ID processing, one of these integral operations for expanding the Census to hard-to-count groups, uses GIS at its core to eliminate the need for a unique Census bureau-assigned identification code and to validate internet responses in near real-time, alleviating administrative hold-ups and improving accuracy.

Leveraging GIS technologies isn’t limited to just the Census Bureau, but this is setting a new precedent for scaled usage of GIS in federal government. Practically every aspect of business or government contains a geographic or locational component — whether it’s an employee directory, Congress representation, resource allocation, emergency response or supply chain management. The Census Bureau is a prime example of using GIS at multiple touchpoints: Throughout this innovated operational process, the federal agency is working towards making the Census as seamless and accurate as possible.

“With non-ID processing in this Census, you can be sitting on a bus, in the library or at a community event and you can respond to the Census just using your address,” Bishop explains. “Geographic information systems have enabled us to do that. We’re trying to make it easy and allow people to respond anytime, anywhere.”

As these changes take hold, Bishop believes the enhanced use of GIS tools will help lay the groundwork for more streamlined, accessible and cost-effective Census collection going forward.

“Looking into the future, we will be able to further modernize and avoid even more costs as we look to the 2030 Census,” says Bishop.