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What communicators can learn from the 2010 U.S. Census

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U.S. Census LogoI received my 2010 U.S. Census form yesterday, right on schedule.  I knew it was “on schedule” due to a well-planned, well-coordinated communication campaign which launched in early February.

First it was a series of rather weird TV and radio spots, then an advance notice mailed to all U.S. households to let them know when to expect the form.  Last week, news outlets all over the country ran stories about the Census:  when it would arrive, how long it would be, how to fill it out, and how to spot a Census scam.

In addition, over the past few days, a number of local news stations have aired interviews with county and municipal officers.  These segments provided local officials with an opportunity to tell their constituents why it was important to participate in the census.

But here’s where it got interesting:  instead of falling back on appeals to our civic duty (after all, we’ve seen how well that has worked with elections and jury duty), their talking points centered on how the collected data is used to determine Congressional representation and voting districts, as well as how Federal funds are allocated to local governments. 

As parents deal with cutbacks in school funding in the aftermath of the economic meltdown, as the national debate over health care and other legislation becomes more and more polarized, the decision to drive participation by focusing on these hot button issues is nothing short of brilliant.

Employee communicators generate lots of surveys and polls.  And with rare exceptions, we are frustrated by low response rates, falling back on gimmicks such as contests and rewards to drive participation.

The danger with stuffing the survey box, so to speak, is that responses rarely reflect the views of the overall employee population, so we end up working from misleading data.  And a program based on faulty data is doomed to fail.

We should take a page from the U.S. Census’s book and stress to our employees how the data will be used to implement changes (or even, improvements!) in the way the business operates.  Perhaps if we can identify the appropriate hot button, we’ll see much higher participation and gather more meaningful data in our assessments.
 

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