Filipino Advocates for Justice staff testing a prototype of the Census support website.
2020 U.S. Census   Participation Support Website

Project Summary

Synopsis

This project was a collaboration between OpenOakland and the Alameda County Complete Count Committee (ACCC) to create a website providing language assistance resources to support participation in the 2020 Census.

Client

The seal of Alameda County,  California

Role

  • User Research
  • UX Design
  • Illustration & Iconography

Work Summary

  • Created prototype site to support participation in 2020 U.S. Census
  • Led and conducted user research and testing
  • Created illustrations and iconography for site design concepts

Context

An OpenOakland Project

This was a project of OpenOakland, a group of citizen activists working in collaboration with local government and commmunity organizations to solve civic and social problems (part of the Code for America Brigade network).

In Collaboration With Alameda County, CA

This project was a collaboration between OpenOakland and California’s Alameda County Complete Count Committee (ACCC), the body of government responsible for maximizing Census participation within the County.

Alameda County’s logo for 2020 Census Outreach.

Counting Everyone In The U.S.A.

The U.S. Census is a count conducted every ten years of EVERY person in the U.S.A. Mandated by the U.S. Constitution this count provides essential data that informs the structure and function of policies and programs at all levels of government within the country. 2020 is the first year the Census will be available as an online digital form in addition to the traditional paper forms.

Participation Barriers

Despite the importance of being counted in the Census there are many barriers to participation. This project focuses on the barriers for those who do not speak or read English. There are over 100 languages spoken in Alameda County. A substantial portion of the population speaks a language other than English as their primary language. However the digital Census form will only be available in 13 languages, and the paper form will only be available in English and Spanish.

There are over 100 languages spoken in Alameda County.

Questionnaire Assistance Centers

Public libraries and other community centers that provide computer access to the public were selected by the ACCC as ideal locations for offering Census support, referred to as Questionnaire Assistance Centers (or QACs). The ACCC reached out to OpenOakland for help with creating a “landing page” website for the Census that would be placed on QAC computers dedicated for completing the Census. This site would guide participants to the digital Census form and any available support resources.

A library computer station.

Support Documents Available (In Many Different Languages)

Alameda County had curated a wealth of documents to support participation in the 2020 Census. A step-by-step guide for answering the Census questions was available in 58 languages. Additional documentation such as promotional material and explanations of the value and impact of participation were available in many languages.

Some of the language assistance documentation available in (Simplified) Chinese.

Digital Census Available In 13 Languages

The Census internet response form is available in 13 languages (the traditional paper form is only available in English and Spanish).

The starting screen for the official digital Census questionnaire.

Process

Reaching People In Their Language

The target audience for the resource site was people whose primary language is not English. We chose to present each language as a discrete button on the landing page for the site. The intention was to communicate as quickly as possible in the user’s primary language.

Initially the ACCC wanted the resource site to link directly to the official Census form itself. However, the digital Census questionnaire would only be available in 13 languages. An early prototype of the site’s landing page distinguished these 13 languages by placing them at the top of the page.

An early prototype of the site’s landing page.

The Value Of Participation

The number of residents counted by the Census, within a given region, affects the aportionment of political representation and Federal funding for that region. According to an Alameda County report “each person that is not counted equates to a loss of ~$2,000 in funding per year”.

Communicating Without Words

The ACCC wanted to inform participants of the value of each completed Census form. However they had already exhausted their budget for translation so they requested the communication be purely visual.

I chose to focus on the benefits of Census participation that relate to daily experiences. I used icons and line drawings to keep the visuals simple and legible.

A secondary screen of the prototype site showing the value of participation.

User Research & Testing

With a list of contacts provided by the ACCC I organized several rounds of research and testing with local community groups involved in Census outreach and support. Each meeting with these community members involved an interview portion to learn about their needs and approach to supporting Census participation. The interviews were then followed by tests of the prototype.

Oakland Public Library staff testing the Census prototype.

The most resounding feedback we received was that it was unclear where to start when presented with so many resources at once.

Focus On The Census Guide

Based on our conversations with community members, the single most useful resource appeared to be the PDF Guide to the Census. This document offered a step-by-step guide to completing each question in the Census. This document was also available in more languages than any other document among the resources we had to share.

The English language guide to the 2020 Census.

Results

Final Prototype

My final design for the site incorporated most of the feedback we’d received in our research and testing. I placed an image of the PDF Census Guide at the top of the site to direct users to the document they needed (and the purpose of the site). I consolidated all the languages and placed the search bar at the top and bottom of the page.

The interactive prototype site is live here.

Design Handoff In A Pandemic

We delivered the final design for the site to the County in late February, 2020. We’ve been on standy to support the implementation of the site on the County servers. The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a wide range of delays. Now that the Census internet response form is live the future of this project is uncertain.