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Change and the 2020 Census: Not Whether But How
A THE PANEL AND THIS REPORT
Sponsored by the U.S. Census Bureau, the Panel to Review the 2010 Census has a broad charge to evaluate the methods and operations of the 2010 census with an eye toward designing and planning for a more cost-effective 2020 census. (The full statement of charge is shown in Appendix A.) In our first year of operation, the panel has held five meetings with both public data-gathering sessions and deliberative sessions. In late fall 2009, the Census Bureau convened a series of informal brainstorming sessions on possible directions for 2020—on such topics as response options and coverage improvement—in which members of our panel participated along with other external experts and Census Bureau staff. Subsequently, small working groups of panel members held similar brainstorming sessions with Census Bureau staff on topics chosen by the panel, including automation of field processes. Between February and August 2010, panel members and staff conducted 58 site visits to local census offices, regional census centers, and data capture facilities in order to obtain information on current census operations with an eye toward future improvements; see Appendix B for a listing. A subgroup of the panel also visited the headquarters of Statistics Canada in Ottawa in May 2010 to discuss the use of the Internet for data collection in Canada’s 2006 and 2011 censuses, as well as the Statistics Canada approach to research and testing.
This first interim report is directed at the forward-looking part of our charge—general guidance for 2020 census planning—for two reasons alluded to in the introduction. First, there are important ways in which the 2010 census is still ongoing—neither the final census data nor the operational data needed to evaluate specific census functions are yet available—and so the actual “2010 evaluation” part of our charge is necessarily premature. More fundamentally, the second reason for a forward-looking approach is that the early years of the decade are critical to the shape of a 2020 count that is meaningfully different from 2010. Change is difficult for any large organization, and confronting the swelling cost of census-taking is something that will require aggressive planning, research, development—and, to be clear, investment of resources—in a very short time frame.
Importantly, the guidance in this report draws on the efforts and experience of several predecessor National Research Council panels. Our Panel to Review the 2010 Census effectively combines the functions of two expert panels sponsored by the Census Bureau to accompany the 2000 census: the Panel to Review the 2000 Census, tasked to observe the census in process, and the Panel on Research on Future Census Methods, tasked to evaluate the then-emerging plans for the 2010 census. Both of those panels’ final reports offer recommendations for later censuses that remain relevant for 2020 planning; in particular, the suggested directions in Reengineering the