My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

Posts Tagged ‘Ken Prewitt’

WSJ: Alternative methods of counting for the Census Bureau

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

Here’s a great article from the Wall Street Journal…Be careful, otherwise you might end up like William Rickenbacker:

By CARL BIALIK

Even in a mandatory census, there are conscientious objectors.

Completing a census form is required by law, but census takers haven’t been able to get any information from more than 500,000 U.S. households this year. While census evaders theoretically can be fined up to $5,000, in practice they are rarely penalized—none were in 2010 or in 2000—for fear of creating a public backlash.

[NUMBGUY] Eddie Rickenbacker Papers, Auburn University Library Special CollectionsWilliam Rickenbacker was fined $100 for refusing to respond to a 1960 census questionnaire, making him one of the few Americans to ever face a penalty for noncompliance.

Instead, the Census Bureau combines threats of penalties with painstaking follow-up over the phone and in person, including interviews with neighbors of nonresponding households. That approach, backed by rapidly rising spending for advertising and census workers, yields near-complete coverage of the U.S. population.

That balancing act is costly, but it yields better statistics than a voluntary census, statisticians say. Calling a survey mandatory boosts participation significantly, they argue, even when enforcement is limited. That is why some data experts in Canada are assailing the government’s new plan to make many census questions there optional.

But as the 2010 U.S. decennial census winds down, a number of critics say even more reliable demographic data could be obtained at far less cost. They point to a system in some European countries that links personal identification numbers to government records on births, deaths, housing and other characteristics. That allows for an annual census rather than waiting every 10 years, and eliminates much of the error experts say arises when people self-report their information.

“The statistical systems in the Netherlands and Germany are much better than our statistical system, because they have a registration system,” said Kenneth Prewitt, the director of the Census Bureau during the 2000 census and now a professor of public affairs at Columbia University. (more…)

Brazil’s Census is way more technologically advanced than ours. This is pathetic.

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

It is a pretty pathetic and sad story when a developing nation’s ability to integrate technology with governance far exceeds our own. Brazil’s strategy saves massive amounts of both time and money. Yet, this is something that I’ve discussed for quite some time with regard to other nations, like Australia. Here’s some news from Brazil which makes you wonder why more people who made decisions about the 2010 Census in the mid 2000s weren’t fired on the spot:

The Harvard Business Review‘s Daily Stat for Tuesday, April 6, 2010, highlighted a disruptive innovation in, of all things, census-taking. According to the publication:

    It’s a national census of hundreds of millions of people across 8 million square kilometers, using a workforce of 230,000 and budget of $1.4 billion. The 2010 U.S. Census? No, it’s Brazil’s 2010 census. The current U.S. headcount, by contrast, requires 3.8 million workers and $14 billion. Census takers in Brazil use PDAs and laptops; those in the U.S. still rely mainly on paper. – Source: Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatístic

While the United States tends to be seen as the technology innovation capital of the world, it seems we’re falling down in “government services innovation.” Doesn’t the US Census fall under the administration’s social innovation program? What other program is intended to have an impact on every single citizen of the US, if not this one?

On any corner of a typical US city, one can buy GPS-enabled, off-the-shelf, 3G-powered mobile devices, with local storage for data collection and Web-enabled connections to the back office. In short, the perfect mobile device for census collections is almost a commodity.

But it seems the US Census Bureau made the classic Innovator’s Dilemma mistake of choosing the slow, safe (and expensive) player, while the consumer mobile world blew by.

The supplier in question is Harris Corp. (NYSE: HRS), which started work on the mobile census project in 2006. It turns out that four years is an eternity in the modern mobile world, and Harris simply couldn’t match the speed of the market with its own proprietary, custom-built devices.

In contrast to the US approach to having custom devices built, Brazil partnered with LG Electronics Inc. (London: LGLD; Korea: 6657.KS) , as noted in TechTicker: “Brazil will start taking its population census in the second half of this year and to ensure a smooth and efficient counting, the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatistica (IBGE) has roped in LG to supply 150,000 GM750 phones.”

The GM750 is ruggedized and comes with its own application; but otherwise, the core phone itself is a device anyone with $100 or less could buy at the corner mobile store.

You may be thinking, who really cares? Perhaps we all should. According to CNN, Hermann Habermann, a former deputy director of the Census Bureau, thinks that without handheld data collection via mobile phone, the government is missing out on a chance to get information more quickly and cheaply than through the mail.

The technology would also help to better identify which Census tract a home is in, which determines an area’s representation in Congress and the distribution of more than $435 billion in federal funds every year. With GPS, according to CNN, the Census Bureau’s Daniel Weinberg, assistant director for the decennial census, anticipated placing residences within a 0.5 percent error rate into the correct tract. Without GPS, the Census Bureau places approximately 5 percent of residences in the wrong tract.

Unfortunately, with the fallback to paper, the error rate is likely to remain, as is the (inadvertent) mis-distribution of funds. While a 4.5 percent error differential may not seem like much, when you’re distributing billions of dollars each percentage point is quite significant in its effect on the local and state economies.

Lessons learned? Pay attention to the trends happening in parallel to your “normal” business and technology world — or you may find that your technological innovation has been disrupted by the fast movers you couldn’t be bothered to notice.

Whether in private, public, government, or other spaces, look around, and you’ll see disruption creeping up on you. Be aware of the technology environment and evolve! Or suffer the costs.

— Dan Keldsen is a Principal and Strategic Advisor at Information Architected.

MyTwoCensus Editorial: The “advance letter” mailing appears to have gone off (almost) smoothly…

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Despite the threat of service cutbacks and job losses at the US Postal Service that were announced in recent days, the mailing of approximately 100 million “advance letters” appears to have gone off with only a few minor glitches. (See previous post about city names and zip codes being inaccurate in St. Louis!) Yes, this whole mass mailing concept should seem like a fairly simple process, but after the major printing debacle that occurred in 2000 (that could have been fatal to the advance letter process), we taking nothing for granted. Despite some small levels of populist discontent about the Census Bureau “wasting money,” the lack of discussion about the advance letter should be treated as a good thing, in that people are now generally aware that their 2010 Census form will arrive in the mail in one week. Let’s just hope that next week’s mailing, which is clearly the most important one in terms of obtaining data (and saving taxpayers money in the long run) is also a process marked by accuracy and efficiency.