Stephen Buckner, the Assistant Director of Communications for the U.S. Census Bureau, set his sights on improving the 2020 census participation among the U.S. population. To that end, he led his team to create innovative customer experiences and marketing technology projects that impact the way people think about the U.S. census and how they can participate in it. The bureau was long considered the frontrunner in leading the charge towards digital transformation in government. With the 2020 census approaching, Buckner spearheaded the launch of an online option for citizens that could not have been better timed, given the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic in the late winter of 2020.


Rolling out a digitized version of the 2020 census and informing the public about it required a massive awareness campaign and a substantial overhaul of the Census Bureau’s existing website. Launching the digital platform would radically transform how the bureau collects its decennial data. Buckner and his team rolled up their sleeves to accomplish the formidable initiative. Working in partnership with Adobe, Buckner and the team built a reliable, scalable site personalized to individual citizens. This undertaking involved research, testing, planning, and addressing the technical issues of updating the bureau’s existing website to handle a large increase in site traffic. 


Today, the project headed by Buckner stands as a hallmark for how government agencies and commercial enterprises can work together to achieve a critical mission for the nation. It also serves as a model for how a government entity can increase participation in an important initiative, educate the population, and work collaboratively to gain the data and insights other agencies rely on to make better, more informed decisions. 


In addition, the project is poised to result in significant cost savings. Online responses save the government significant time and labor and costs far less than in-person, mail, and phone reporting.  A 1% move from paper to digital fulfillment is estimated to save at least $55M (approximately $107 per survey), allowing the Census Bureau to potentially save billions in the future—while increasing accuracy and convenience to citizens to participate.


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Former Assistant Director for Digital Marketing and Strategic Communications,
U.S. Department of Commerce