Do you know how your city makes decisions about adding new public transport, or how many handicap spaces to add to a parking lot? City, County, State, and Federal governments make a lot of decisions – from the city planning to electoral votes – based upon data you provide during Census Surveys. When it comes to Census data, messing-up is not an option.

In 2010, when the US Census survey teams were last out knocking door to door, I was one of those people who did not want to take time to respond to a few questions.  Maybe by saying ‘no’ I also gave the impression to my then 3-year-old that survey teams are scary.  (The perception of scary survey teams in his mind was helpful to make him eat his veggies for some time. But that’s another story.)  Anyway, I had forgotten about it all until recently, when I got an opportunity to work with the amazing team at US Census department on a project.

A few months back, Susie Wee, VP CTO Cisco DevNet developer program and my boss introduced us to The Opportunity Project(TOP) Team – a team that engages the tech sector to create digital tools that expand American economic opportunity.  One of the problems for which the TOP team was looking for help from the tech sector was the issue of low-response rates on Census surveys in certain communities and geographic areas.  Historically, 18% of the U.S. population goes uncounted due to issues including lack of knowledge about the census and mistrust of the federal government. This results in fewer resources allocated, less congressional representation for the communities, and policy recommendations not accounting for the needs of undercounted populations.

For DevNet, we saw this as a great way to give back, and engage our developer community to create solutions for socio-economic issues using open data and Cisco platforms.  The low-response rate problem was interesting enough for us to look at, and we pulled together a small team to start user research and data exploration, working with the local Census user advocates and data dissemination teams.

Storymap, from the US Census team, was one of the very first tools we looked at. It showed a large portion of Silicon Valley and San Francisco had low response rates.  This validated the fact that a lot of tech workers and mobile millennials represented in that data needed to pay more attention to US Census survey.

                                             Dark green areas above show 30-57.8% non-response rate from communities.

To help address this low response rate from the tech community, we built DevNet “My City Learning Tool” – a fun, ‘gamified’ way to expose the importance of census data to application developers, mobile millennials, and students. This tool will also be used by the TOP team to drive awareness of Census in student and other communities.  The My City Learning Tool presents a scenario in which there is an emergency and a mission to save lives. There are relevant data sets for the player to find, and some Cisco APIs to explore to help in such an emergency. The tool calls on all data ‘superheroes’ to save the day by finding the hidden data.  Learn more about Census Data by doing the Census Learning Lab and start solving problems in your community, in your city!  It’s fun!  And it’s important.  Give it a try!

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Shubha Govil

Director, Product Management

Cisco DevNet