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Changing Small Habits Can Lead to Transformation

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The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “The only constant in life is change.” I’m no philosopher, but I can say I’ve seen a lot of change in the 30-plus years I’ve been at the U.S. Census Bureau. When I got to the agency in the fall of 1992, you could still hear the tapping of typewriters and smoking was allowed in designated places like private offices. How we work at the Census Bureau has also transformed dramatically. When I arrived, there was no internet data collection since there was barely an internet, and the agency was struggling with moving from FORTAN to the statistical software platform SAS. But we stopped smoking inside, tossed the typewriters, adopted SAS and now couldn’t imagine executing our mission without the internet to collect data, collaborate with colleagues or disseminate our data products to you – the public.  

While our mission is the same, the Census Bureau of 2023 is virtually unrecognizable from three decades ago and I’m sure will be radically different three decades from now. We know that to continue being the nation’s leading statistical agency, we must keep up with the world around us. It’s up to all of us to build the Census Bureau of the 21st century – one that provides our users the high-quality data they need to thrive in a changing world.

Transformation is not new for the Census Bureau. We have a legacy of innovating, changing and adapting to emergent socioeconomic trends to provide the American public relevant and actionable data. But as my examples from my years at the Census Bureau demonstrate, we’re already transforming! Everything we do to improve our processes, operations, communications, culture and customer service is at the heart of transformation.

Transformation is happening all around us at the Census Bureau. It happened when we had to adapt as a workforce and work from home during a global pandemic; it happened when we quickly stood up the Household, Small Business Pulse surveys and the COVID Data Hub to help gauge the pandemic’s impact on Americans.

Now more than ever, innovation is critical to our success. We must seize the opportunities and address the challenges in front of us. As we carry out our mission, we must think in innovative and collaborative ways and break down silos to transform how we do our business by delivering value to our data users.

We have an extensive range of data users – from academics to small business owners – and our interactions with them, are evolving. In order to serve them effectively, we need to evolve with them. Their needs are different, and we should make sure those needs are being met by providing better, more innovative ways to make that happen. We need to segment our users to develop data delivery methods, ranging from confidential access to visualizations and tools. Our OnTheMap, CRE, and Census Business Builder are great tools to meet the needs of different data users and stakeholders. 

Transformation is not a plan developed by senior leaders that everyone at the agency must follow. It’s about all of us and the work we do – together. To better enable our ability to develop and deliver innovative data products to our user, we’re investing in four foundational initiatives: Data Ingest and Collection for the Enterprise (DICE), Enterprise Data Lake (EDL), Frames and Census Enterprise Dissemination Services and Customer Innovation (CEDSCI). 



Integrating the four pillars into a unified enterprise approach to doing business makes it possible for the Census Bureau to provide easily discoverable and linkable data to accurately answer more questions faster than ever.



Now more than ever, the demand for data-driven analysis continues to increase. It is critical for the Census Bureau to be able to provide timely and relevant information to support evidence-based policymaking. To do this, we must address challenges like declining survey response rates and leverage key opportunities including:

  • Expanded census computing power.
  • Collaborating with increasingly sophisticated external statistical organizations, businesses and data users.
  • Incorporating the rapid emergence of new sources of data, modern statistical methods and innovations. 
  • Partnering with private industry to develop products and access new sources data.

While it can seem like Transformation is only taking place within large-scale projects within the Census Bureau, transformation undergirds everything we do as an agency. The policies that change, the way data are collected and disseminated, our systems and processes… that’s all Transformation too.

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