Prioritizing Equity in Government-Led Innovation Programs

Oct 25, 2021

The Census Open Innovation Labs (COIL) team is supporting the next generation of technologists and visual designers, as they build hands-on skills and address some of our nation’s most pressing challenges through The Opportunity Project (TOP). This is the second consecutive year that COIL is collaborating with college and university students in a 10-week technology development sprint. Now, art and design students have joined this effort as well.

These artists, designers, and technologists will offer a new voice and perspective to 2020 Census data by developing new and creative ways to engage and support representation of the hardest-to-count communities in the U.S such as non-English speakers, Native Americans, college and university students, children under five, and racial and ethnic minorities. As a refresher, the decennial Census is constitutionally mandated to count every person residing in the United States every ten years– those that the U.S. Census Bureau considers hard-to-count (HTC) are populations of residents that either willingly or unwillingly do not fill out the decennial census.

The  sprint aligns with the recent Executive Order 13985, Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government by working to ensure that data from the 2020 Census is accessible and actionable for all Americans.

Teams will focus on three themes:

  1. Inclusive and Creative 2020 Census Data Engagement 
  2. Assisting Businesses, Community Leaders, and State and Local Governments to Make Critical Decisions Using Decennial Census Data
  3. Improving Data Literacy Using Decennial Census Data

Learn more about the problem statements.

Why Include Artists?

This is the first time artists and designers are joining The Opportunity Project to use artwork, data visualizations, and design solutions addressing the issues of data accessibility and data equity. The idea of data equity encourages us to examine the ways in which data is collected, analyzed, interpreted, and distributed through a lens of equity, diversity, and inclusion, with particular consideration for  the nation’s most underrepresented, marginalized, and underserved communities.

However, this is not the first time the U.S. Census Bureau has engaged art to  promote inclusion and accessibility. To increase participation in the 2020 Census, the Census Accelerate Program, through it’s Creatives for the Count initiative, activated designers and artists across the nation from 2018 to 2020 to engage hard-to-count communities in producing compelling and shareable digital content. With the inclusion of art as a medium, these teams have the power to engage individuals and families from any community in the nation, not just those with tech access and high literacy.

At its core, the TOP model was designed with inclusion in mind. TOP uses free, federal data that is accessible to everyone, requires diverse voices to be heard during the design process, and focuses product development. TOP exists to help every American use, and benefit from, public data.

Ensuring Minority-Serving Institutions Have a Seat at the Table

To ensure inclusion, agencies may have to go the extra mile, given historical biases in common outreach and systems.  During the recruitment process, the TOP team placed special emphasis on ensuring that the cohort of participating universities included Minority-Serving Institutions (MSI). Of the 10 teams participating, four are Minority Serving Institutions; Rutgers University- Newark, Philander Smith College, the University of North Texas, and Clark Atlanta University.

“Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) that serve minority populations are uniquely positioned to elevate the challenges their communities face—in terms of access and inclusion. We need the voice of these communities at the table to represent the diversity, culture, languages, and unique perspectives of students that are passionate about technology, data, and social impact. The Opportunity Project has opened new pathways for collaboration and is breaking down equity barriers in civic-tech by serving as a platform to connect government, students, data experts, and underserved communities . We need tech that works for all, not most.” said Lorena Molina-Irizarry, Director of Operations of the Census Open Innovation Labs.

With all the voices at the table producing more diverse content with census data than ever before, we’re excited to see the results and how this catalyzes more inclusive thinking at our agency and beyond.

Get Involved

This work will be showcased in an end-of year event, so sign up for emails to stay in the loop and get updates about The Opportunity Project.