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Census 2020 during COVID-19 : Why the US is betting on online questionnaires to collect crucial data?

2020 has been an uncertain year to say the least. Businesses, educational institutions and government machinery the world over have been severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Businesses, schools and colleges have resorted to alternative means to carry out their obligations (work from home, or lectures over video calls), but what about governments? Is it really possible to perform their duties which have traditionally involved a lot of fieldwork?

Thanks to the United States government, we’re about to find out. The US government has decided to conduct the 2020 census online, via online survey tools. Needless to say this is an absolutely mammoth exercise which requires several branches of government to work together. Census results are essential for the government to determine which government services require what amount of funding so it's imperative that the US government makes sure it works flawlessly.

Thanks to online survey tools and platforms, it’s quite possible to conduct polls on a national scale, which removes one major challenge out of the US government’s path. 

However there’s still a few quirks and issues that need to be dealt with-

Participation!

As with all surveys and polls, be they online or in the field, one of the biggest challenges is getting people to participate. With that in mind, the US census bureau has created an extremely well thought out and intuitive campaign website- informing voters about everything they could possibly want to know about the Census. 

They’ve also done an excellent job in highlighting just why public participation in the census is so important. You can have a look at the website here.

As an aside, in uncertain times such as these, it’s important to come forward and participate in the census as a show of force. Making your voice heard in the worst of times can go a long way in influencing future government policies.

Infrastructure

Getting an entire nation to take a poll online is no mean feat, and requires several departments working in close coordination with each other.
Then there’s the question of infrastructure. There’s going to be a lot of data to store and keep safe. The online survey tools used to be backed up with powerful hardware and have to be capable of handling high volumes of data, and a large number of concurrent users as well. 

Privacy concerns

Respondents to online surveys often have concerns about the security of their private data, and the potential for its misuse. This is only amplified when it comes to government surveys like a Census. 

The US Census bureau has taken note of it and has gone above and beyond in ensuring respondents’ data is secure. While exact details of the security apparatus is not available in the public domain, one should have little doubt about the veracity of the census bureau’s claims.  

What does it mean for the future?

This isn't the first time that online survey tools have been used to conduct political polls or government or those related to government services (Here's another story you may find interesting!). However, the sheer scale of the US 2020 Census is a proof of concept of the versatility that modern survey platforms, social and market research tools have on offer. It is now possible to conduct surveys across any medium, at any scale, and glean actionable insights from the data generated, the US 2020 Census being a case in point. 

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