A stronger digital cornerstone of democracy
As Stephen Buckner, assistant director of communications at the U.S. Census Bureau, says, “The Census Bureau is something that the founding fathers really believed in as a cornerstone of our democracy. Working here it gives you a sense of civic pride and reminds you of the importance of what this agency does.”
For the past decade, the Census Bureau has been leading the way towards digital transformation in U.S. government. Powered by the dream of an online census response option, their strategic vision used the momentum of the 2020 census as an opportunity for wider national engagement with the Bureau. Except for the once-every-decade census, the awareness with the Bureau and all its offerings was largely limited to government employees and students on fact-finding missions. Buckner and team were on a mission to change the narrative.
But, as with any massive task, the Bureau had to start from the beginning to make the lasting progress they envisioned. This meant modernising the Census Bureau website — all 5M pages of it. With 230 years of historical data, census.gov is one of the nation’s largest websites. The website needed the right CMS to make their content as useful and usable as it could be. As part of the 2010 census, where there was no online option, the Bureau had focused on updating the front-end of their website. For 2020, they moved into strengthening the rest of their web structure, including search functionality. “We hadn't got the infrastructure or backbone to support a modern front facing website. We had no content management system. There were no analytics,” said Buckner.
And with the goal of shepherding millions of people to the site in a short window of time, census.gov needed to be able to handle extremely heavy traffic without a hitch.
These two challenges — moving the website forward and increasing awareness about the Bureau — drove Buckner to seek a multifaceted digital solution. “We first started working with Adobe try to figure out the best way to migrate over 5 million pages into Adobe Experience Manager,” said Buckner. Doing so involved more than just a platform update. Buckner and team had to reevaluate their organisational structure and put new processes in place to ensure their website would remain functional well into the future. For instance, the Bureau had about 120 employees who could author and publish web content at any given moment, which didn’t help with the structure and consistency of their large website. When they implemented Experience Manager, the Bureau chose to put processes into place to guide content creation that would fit well within their new web templates. According to Buckner, this helped census.gov look “more like a traditional website and less like an organisational chart.”
In the decade since the last census, the rise of social media and other digital platforms meant that the Census Bureau needed to connect in new ways. To work on building awareness, the Census Bureau increased their digital ad budget from 8 per cent in the 2010 Census to 40 per cent in 2020 Census. With an updated website and an online census option, it finally made sense to use the power of digital advertising to drive customers to fill in the survey at 2020census.gov.
As Buckner said, “Even though as we're a government agency, we’re always trying to stay ahead of the curve and be a forward-thinking organisation.” The first step forward was getting census.gov ready for its inaugural online option.