Every 10 years the census counts everyone living in the United States.

However, there are many communities around the nation that go uncounted.

The Census Open Innovation Labs aimed to increase participation in creative and innovative ways.

We brought together national partners, designers, storytellers, creatives and trusted voices in the community.

Together, they co-created meaningful content and engaging messaging used to inspire our nation to #GetOutTheCount.

Here is our story…

A Letter from the Census Accelerate Team

Dear reader,

Starting up the first innovation lab in a 120+-year-old federal agency has required a delicate balance of experimentation with a steadfast commitment to better serving the American people. It can be messy, uncomfortable even, to disrupt tried-and-true systems and ways of working, especially in large institutions where such norms are put in place to protect the public.

But in our radically changing world, if we don’t keep up with the pace of change, then there is a cost to not trying new things. Think about how much society has changed in the decade since our last Decennial Census in 2010: we shifted from Blockbuster to Netflix, taxicabs to Uber and Lyft, hotels to Airbnbs. And even in 2020, when the Census Bureau had one plan and the world had another, agility became our institution’s greatest asset.

In an effort as monumental as the 2020 Census – our nation’s largest peacetime mobilization – our prerogative is to find new ways to more deeply collaborate with industries, organizations, and communities who have led many of the changes we’ve seen, and learn how to reach the hardest-to-count community members in the digital age.

That’s exactly what we’ve done with Census Accelerate, a program of the Census Open Innovation Labs that was established to foster new collaborations in order to ensure a more complete and accurate count of our nation. In the last few years, we’ve:

✓	Hosted over 100 workshops with 700+ attendees
✓	Helped generate over 1000 pieces of online shareable content
✓	Worked with 40+ partners
✓	Gained 200+ creative ambassadors
✓	Reached every traditionally hard-to-count community
✓	Helped generate over 750 videos promoting the Census <br>   through the Census Bureau’s first-ever video prize competition

We wrote this report to demonstrate the impact of our activities, and to serve as a blueprint for others who are seeking new modes of civic engagement that are adaptive to the times in which we live.

To our many partners, we thank you for joining the movement and making this work possible.


The Census Accelerate Team Census Open Innovation Labs

The Challenge

The way the world communicates has changed radically in the last 10 years. Relying solely on traditional print ads and TV campaigns wouldn’t work in our social media savvy society today. In order to get a complete and accurate 2020 census count, we needed to engage the community directly. In 2017, we expanded our reach, pushed the boundaries and asked creatives and community leaders to join us in co-creating digital content and outreach strategies, in the voice of the people they represent. The challenge of bridging the digital divide between the Census Bureau and hard to count communities around the nation is what birthed the Census Accelerate initiative.

Who We Are: Census Accelerate

We are a team of entrepreneurs, designers, technology experts, civic leaders, and storytellers who bring design thinking, cross-sector collaboration, and hyper creativity to ensure everyone is represented in the 2020 Census.

Census Accelerate was established to foster new collaborations in order to ensure a more complete and accurate count of our nation.

The census aims to count an increasingly diverse and growing population of about 330 million people in more than 140 million housing units, presenting our team with new challenges and opportunities. This 2020 Census is the first ever “digital-first” census, which means there’s now an option to respond to the census online or by phone, in addition to the traditional paper form. Getting this message out to hard-to-count communities across the nation is critical.

We knew that in order to communicate the importance of the 2020 census, we needed to engage communities in a truly authentic and interactive way. We developed the following Theory of Change model to help guide our decision making process as we charted towards a more complete and accurate 2020 census count.

Theory of Change

Our theory of change posits that establishing deep relationships and collaborative efforts with industries, organizations, communities and creative professionals leads to exponentially better solutions than if one organization were to try to solve them on their own.

Our partners are expert in what they do; to better engage them we must co-design solutions with them rather than prescribe what to do, and we must also bring them together with unlikely partners to develop creative solutions rooted in data and culture.

  • Partnering with the entertainment industry and media outlets can magnify and spread information about the importance of being counted with language that resonates with communities.
  • Partnering with technology companies can increase the trust in and security of the census and the information that surrounds it, as these organizations can use their platforms to counter disinformation, cybersecurity threats, and other impediments to an accurate count. They can also be a powerful catalyst for getting people to respond.

The ability to create space for innovation has the power to catalyze new approaches, ideas, collaboration and outcomes.

Through our workshops, open source briefs, and national creative efforts we were able to bring together cross-sector collaborators with diverse perspectives to strengthen civic engagement. In fact, during our first-ever video prize challenge we galvanized the creation of over 750 videos promoting the census. And developing strong, replicable models for collaboration has been key to scaling them. That’s what we did with our Create-a-thon series, Creatives for the Count. We made this workshop model available to the public and grew it exponentially thanks to the Bureau’s partnerships teams as well as externally-organized Complete Count Committees.

Trusted messengers and strong messages are critical to the success of the 2020 Census.

Bringing together creative professionals, national advocacy organizations, and local leaders amplified trusted voices in hard-to-count communities and resulted in stronger messages than with top-down messaging coming from the Census Bureau alone. These messengers – whether they be local faith leaders, celebrities who have strong influence in hard-to-count communities, or advocacy organizations, are key in spreading information about the importance of being counted with language that resonates with communities.


Census Accelerate sought out to test a new design-thinking model, to activate communities in a non-traditional way, to bring passionate folks from all walks of life together that care deeply about increasing awareness for the 2020 Census- and to work alongside the government in these outreach efforts. We used human-centered design principles as the base for the development of all of our programs and workshops. By refocusing our goal of getting everyone in America counted and centering our efforts on hard to count communities, we were able to develop powerful content generating program models that yielded meaningful community lead content and messaging.

Our Programs

Census Solutions Workshops

Our Partners wanted more out of their engagements with the Census Bureau, so we designed the Census Solutions Workshop. The Census Solutions Workshop uses Ideation (or “idea generation”) methodology with partners and participants to generate new community outreach ideas customized to the needs of the hard to count communities they are each serving.

In 2017 The Census Accelerate team began using the Census Solutions Workshop with partners at conferences around the country. The goal was to bring diverse communities together to generate new ideas for campaigns, media, and activities to help Get Out the Count for the 2020 Census. We designed, tested, and iterated a series of standalone pilot events focusing particularly on traditional hard-to-count (HTC) communities. At each workshop, creative and innovative ideas started to emerge. Here is a snapshot of some of the outcomes:

  • A neighbor-to-neighbor toolkit for spreading awareness of the census. Ÿ
  • A toolkit and campaign to engage local libraries in the census count, focusing on people experiencing homelessness. Ÿ
  • A teen Census Ambassador Program. Ÿ
  • A census “Get Out the Count” campaign block party for local activation.
  • Co-hosted close to 30 Census Solutions Workshops.

“In these workshops, people who never saw themselves as creative started to discover a childlike playfulness in generating new ideas around the census. We use different exercises to turn off the filter that often tells people that their ideas are crazy or bad, thus opening a new space of possibilities, especially when combined with other ideas from people who are different from them.”

Mara Abrams, Co-founder, Census Accelerate

Creatives for The Count

Create-a-thon Model

Many organizations leading 2020 Census outreach efforts have limited creative and/or digital capacity. Yet, as trusted voices, it is vital that their outreach efforts be amplified online to reach as many of their community members as possible. Create-a-thon events bring together creative talent (designers, copywriters, content strategists, video-makers, etc.) with those organizations so that they can conduct more effective digital outreach, with the ultimate goal of increasing self-response rates among the hardest-to-count communities they serve. We called the broader effort to organize Create-a-thons across the country “Creatives for the Count.” The COIL team has hosted 22 Creative-a-thon events across the country.

“The first Create-a-thon we co-hosted with COIL cemented what has become a three year journey working on the 2020 census, building a team, working with partner orgs, creating media and encouraging and serving others to run campaigns.” Colin Maclay, Census Counts, Executive Director and Research Professor USC Annenberg School Innovation Lab

“The COIL team helped bring thought leaders together from across South Carolina for a day that challenged and engaged us in creating meaningful content that would actually lead to people completing the 2020 census, rather than just being aware of it. We walked away with stronger community relationships, engaging content, and a better understanding of the impact of the 2020 census on our state.” Mary Dell Hayes Project Manager, SC Counts 2020 I United Way Association of South Carolina

Creative Ambassadors Program

We launched the Creative Ambassador program in efforts to encourage artists and storytellers to respond to calls for census content design support from our community partners. We engaged just over 25 dedicated creative professionals in our Creative Ambassadors Program to support ongoing design needs beyond our Creative-a thon events. A small but mighty highly engaged team of Creative Ambassadors develop a DIY Content Toolkit (.zip 42MB), for and by creatives, guiding them to make content to share within their networks.

We’ve partnered with dozens of diverse organizations to bring these events to hard-to-count communities across the nation, here’s a snapshot of some of our collaborators:

Our Partners

Who’s Been Involved?

Partnerships are key to the success of Census Accelerate efforts. Our Creatives for the Count model has been used far and wide by key organizations reaching hard to count communities in the US. We’ve partner with advocacy groups, grassroots organizations, non profits, businesses, Complete Count COmmittees and many more…

In addition, partnership with Complete Count Committees (CCC) have has been a invaluable, in expanding these methodologies for creatively collaboration with hard-to-count communities, and are connection point, as CCCs are key vehicles to nurturing mutual efforts and briging together between tribal, state, and local and tribal governments; the third sector, private sector and communities.; and the U.S. Census Bureau.

“The Census Accelerate team brought together about 75 people to think, dream, and design together… The event had given us more than just new materials to use — it left us feeling empowered to create.” - Meghan Maury Policy Director, National LGBTQ Task Force

“The first Create-a-thon we co-hosted with COIL cemented what has become a three year journey working on the 2020 census, building a team, working with partner orgs, creating media and encouraging and serving others to run campaigns.”- Colin Maclay, Census Counts, Executive Director and Research Professor USC Annenberg School Innovation Lab

“The COIL team helped bring thought leaders together from across South Carolina for a day that challenged and engaged us in creating meaningful content that would actually lead to people completing the 2020 census, rather than just being aware of it. We walked away with stronger community relationships, engaging content, and a better understanding of the impact of the 2020 census on our state.” - Mary Dell Hayes Project Manager, SC Counts 2020 I United Way Association of South Carolina

Big Tech Partnerships

The massive boom of the technology sector in the last decade has created accompanying concerns around misinformation, disinformation, and cybersecurity. Since 2017, the Census Accelerate team has utilized human-centered design principles to engage industry and ‘Big Tech,’ as a way to activate technology and media industry and leverage their platforms to educate about the importance of the 2020 Census and to inform the public with accurate and factual information. From 2017-2018, Census Accelerate launched a series of roadshows engaging the tech sector, including with companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and Google.


In order to get a complete and accurate count, Census Accelerate needed distribution channels to get the word out and host their own creative generating events. We couldn’t do it on our own. We leaned on our impact partners in the nonprofit and business sector, we asked community leaders to share content and we collaborated with various Census Bureau departments to further our mission of getting out the count.

What We’ve Created

The content that’s been developed has ranged from professional quality graphic designs, to user generated videos, to funny memes, to simple hand-drawn sketches and even a few songs. What has mattered most is that the content delivers information and calls to action in the most authentic ways that speak to people’s culture, worldview, and personality.

Engaging representatives and creatives from the target audience themselves to create content and develop messaging, makes them active producers rather than just passive consumers of digital media.

Who We’ve Reached

Through the Census Solutions Workshops and Create-a-thon events, Census Accelerate has engaged every single traditional hard-to-count community from children ages 0-5, LGBTQ communities, ethnic minorities, immigrants, people experiencing homelessness, rural communities, people with low incomes, renters and people with limited English proficiency. Take a look at our impact snapshot:

Since 2019 we’ve……..

  • Hosted 20 creative workshops with 700+ attendees in total
  • Produced over 1,000 pieces of content
  • Worked with 40+ partners and beneficiaries of the content
  • Convened hundreds of creatives ambassadors to develop engaging content
  • Reached every traditionally hard-to-count audience
  • Garnered nearly 30,000 website visits to creativesforthecount.org
  • Over 100 Census Solution Workshops engaging partners nationwide through our design thinking model.

Spreading the Word: Content Sharing Initiatives


Our content needed to be centralized and accessible to trusted voices in communities around the nation. In 2019, Census Accelerate created a partnership with Rock the Vote and U.Group, who built creativesforthecount.org. This new platform allowed any partner or community member the chance to upload their own content or download others’ content. Users can filter the content by location, keywords, event type, and hard-to-count population. Creative content ranging from gifs to memes to posters and more are all free and accessible for census advocates to utilize as they educate their communities about the 2020 Census. The site houses over 1000+ pieces of content from 15+ cities across the country, garnering nearly 30,000 visits to date.

Get Out the Count Video Prize Challenge

In March 2020, we put out a call to video content creators across the country…and they answered.

Census Accelerate launched the first-ever U.S. Census Bureau video prize challenge to reward the most engaging, impactful and informative original videos about the 2020 Census - with a total of $50,000 in cash prizes. The competition challenged contestants to make the 2020 Census a must-do for communities, particularly those considered “hard-to-count,” such as racial and ethnic minorities, young and mobile populations, families with young children, LGBTQ+, non-English speakers, among others.

After receiving over 750 video submissions in over a dozen languages from all across the United States, our panel of judges narrowed it down to three videos with cash prizes totaling $50,000. We recruited over 100 judges from across the U.S. Census Bureau, media companies and organizations representing hard to count communities across the nation. Our challenge allowed many judges the opportunity to reconnect with the heart and community of census work. We received very positive responses from our judges:

“Each video told a story I wanted and needed to see, hear and experience. The videos spoke of our humanity by highlighting the realities of what the 2020 Census is really all about–it’s about people, not just stats. That’s my takeaway. I completed my judging assignment today with part of our nation engraved on my heart. Thank you for that.”

Peter Griffith, U.S. Census Bureau Senior Partnership Specialist, Los Angeles

“It was really fun to watch all of the videos. Truly impressed by everyone’s creativity and commitment to getting the census to more communities.”

Mindy Nguyen Social Impact & Strategic Partnerships GOOD/Upworthy

The Get Out The Count Video Prize Challenge concluded with a Livestream Awards Ceremony (viewed over 5,000 times) to announce the winners and highlight some of the engaging census videos created for and by communities across the country. More than 2,000+ viewers tuned-into the livestream, which featured 14 finalists’ videos and three highlight reels showcasing the best videos in the categories of: Musicals & Songs and COIL’s Top Picks. Viewers shared:

“This is so fantastic! We’re honored to be part of this creative and groundbreaking campaign to help everyone in the US be counted!”

Tufus Census Action

“Such a fun thing to do during quarantine and healthy way to keep me busy”

Dayana Jiselle

The top 20 videos have been viewed over 15,000 times and the contest generated over 100,000 visits to the challenge.gov website.

The winners of the Get Out The Count Video Prize Challenge were:

Keaton Davis, Austin, Texas, Make It Count / #2020Census - Awarded $30,000 Grand Prize

Latino Community Fund Georgia, Me Toca a Mi - Awarded $10,000 Runner Up Prize

Austyn Malynn Santa Clarita, California, The 2020 Census Song! - Awarded $10,000 Student Prize

Civic Alliance

Census Accelerate diversified its impact strategy by collaborating with the private sector. We worked with Civic Alliance – a nonpartisan group of businesses working together on wide scale civic participation in order to focus on what companies can do to get out the count.

In March 2020, Census Accelerate teamed up with Civic Alliance to run a 2020 Census sprint – a process to accelerate actionable outcomes – in order to engage multiple national consumer brands and tech platforms that could reach large numbers of citizens and encourage them to participate in the 2020 census. Over the course of the sprint, each company developed a product, campaign, or feature, intended to reach their customers and/or employees. Experts within and outside the U.S. Census Bureau were made available to advise member companies throughout the sprint. Participating companies were invited to publicly share their sprint plans and ideas. As a result of changes necessitated by the COVID pandemic, the scheduled event was cancelled. However, to date, we catalyzed collaborations with the following companies: (add logos): ATTN, Gap, Inc, Lyft, Reddit, Snapchat Twitter, Uber, Univision

Digital Action Weekend

In May 2020, Census Accelerate joined forces with CPEP and NPP on a national day of digital action to activate influencers, celebrities and partners at once. This was in an effort to create a unified and concentrated drumbeat in pushing creative census content out online. The weekend focused on two distinct but related efforts: 1) celebrity/influencer activation & 2) Tweet-a-thon (Census Accelerate) that was rolled up into a single weekend event from May 1-3.

We worked with Twitter and Census Counts for a day of digital action to deploy over 500 pieces of content from creativesforthecount.org and partner content. In addition, CPEP/NPP activated influencers and celebrities by leveraging the support from governors, trusted voices, SCCCs, CCCs and other partners to achieve a groundswell of content distribution and make #2020Census trend on Twitter.

We created an extensive resource guide with social media graphics, video scripts and sample posts that was shared thousands of times across the nation.

Due to the enormous success of Digital Action Weekend, there was a spike for #creativeforthecount and the Get Out the Count Video Challenge distribution, generating thousands of visits to the challenge.gov website (total of 103,182 since March 23) that inevitably drove up our submissions rate. Promotion of census content was seen across Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. Over four hundred new posts were generated on Facebook alone, with the most engaging post and most viewed video from the School District of Palm Beach County, generating over 4,600 views.

In addition, as a result of this massive push, over one thousand new users visited our accelerate.census.gov website and over two thousands new users utilized the content on the creativesforthecount.org website.

Creative Events and Workshops Growth

Census Accelerate facilitated 20 create-a-thons throughout the U.S. The model spread to over 20 different states and 30 organizations. People were able to adapt the model to their own communities Over 400 creative events have been run, reaching every hard-to-count community. Organizations, like xxxx, have been able to use the content to share their message and story to the community.

The Opportunity Project 2020 Census Sprint

The Opportunity Project (TOP), also led by Census Open Innovation Labs (COIL), brings together government agencies, technology teams, and community organizations to address national challenges powered by federal open data. In 2020, Census Accelerate recruited technology teams and community groups and facilitated a collaborative process for building digital tools that focused on enumerator recruitment, the digital divide, digital literacy, and reaching hard-to-count communities.

We recruited over twelve technology organizations including Measure of America, Next Day Better and Voatz and ten community organizations including Civic Georgia, Color of Challenge, United Way and Univision to work together to develop two digital products that address some of the major challenges of census operations and outreach.

Our products included the Census Intelligence Center by Civis Analytics and Data 2 Go for Census Outreach by Measure of America [products below are snapshots from the TOP website]

Partnering with Big Tech Our team helped catalyze partnerships with Big tech companies about the importance of communicating to the public accurate information about the 2020 Census and protecting it from interference. These collaborations led to a concerted effort to address misinformation and disinformation shared on social media and search platforms. In 2017-2018 our team led a series of informational roadshows to engage tech companies in support of a complete and accurate count. And in the spring and fall of 2019, launched a series of convenings that brought together technology experts, Census staff, civic leaders and civil society invested in successfully ideating and implementing digital strategies for the 2020 Census. With support from Facebook, Twitter and Google, we launched a series of Civic Digital Strategy workshops, anchored in human centered methods. These convenings focused on technology, civil society, and social platforms’ roles in informing the public about the importance of being counted and ensuring that factual information is being shared across platforms.

It also resulted in commitments to combat fraudulent activities to help protect the integrity of the 2020 Census— which included helping to prevent the spread of fake, false, and inaccurate information that can negatively influence participation in 2020 Census. As a result, big tech companies developed and implemented policies that prohibited the sharing of false information about civic events such as the 2020 census on their platforms.

How Google and Youtube are Working to Protect the 2020 Census

Helping Protect the U.S. Census

US Census search prompt launch & efforts to support Census conversations

Additionally, Google developed a Google Playbook for civil society groups which helped them coordinate outreach and communication efforts.

Since then, the U.S. Census Bureau has established the government’s first-ever Trust & Safety Team to help protect the population’s count and enhance Census Bureau’s external relations work with a dedicated focus on protecting the accuracy of all 2020 Census information. Today, the Trust & Safety Team is comprised of more than a dozen communications and social media experts under the executive leadership of career senior officials.

Census Accelerate has also partnered with Code for America, a technology non profit, and their Brigade Network to coordinate on supporting their local communities for increased engagement for the 2020 Census. The Brigade Network is a national network of technologists, developers and designers that seeks to put technology forward in service of local communities.

Efforts included:

  • Brigades for the Count virtual event for Complete Count Committees to connect with local Code for America Brigades, so that volunteer technologists and designers could team up with local advocates in cities across the nation to support 2020 Census efforts.
  • A virtual convening with Code for America, New America, and U.S. Census Bureau’s Trust & Safety Team about potential brigade activations, including supporting Complete Count Committees with digital tools and flagging content that may communicate inaccurate or false information about the 2020 Census at a local level.

Toolkits: Furthering Our Reach

Powered by the Community

In February 2018, The Census Accelerate team developed Census Solutions Workshops and Create-a-thon toolkits, offering a step- by- step guide for national and community partners to host their own events. The toolkit was distributed through the U.S. Census Bureau partner websites National Partnerships Program (NPP) and Community Partnerships and Engagement (CPEP and downloaded over 1000+ times. Both organizations adopted the workshop model and deployed the Create a thon event and Census solutions workshop in every Census region- Making these the Accelerate human -centered design thinking program models U.S. Census Bureau engaged and activated partners for the 2020 Census. By the end of 2019, Census community partners, Complete Count Committees, and communities started adopting the Census Solutions Workshop model and Create-a-thons all over the nation. Census Accelerate developed a guide for facilitators in and outside the Census Bureau to run these design thinking workshops in their various regions. To date, hundreds of Create a thon and Census solutions workshops have been instituted, resulting in thousands of new ideas and partnerships to support a complete and accurate count for the 2020 Census.

Community Led Outreach

In 2017 Census Accelerate partnered with the Office of Evaluation Sciences at General Services Administration to develop an Audience Outreach Toolkit to go hand-in-hand with the Census Solutions Workshop resources and materials. The goal was to help partners create a tailored outreach strategy to reach their communities more effectively.

The Audience Outreach Toolkit Applies evidence-based practices that help partners identify barriers to participation, gather insights about what works and what doesn’t, and come up with recommendations and questions to reflect on when developing and tailoring communication strategies with a qualitative frame of mind.

Going Virtual: Adapting to a Changing Environment

Census Accelerate piloted the Create-a-thon model over the course of 2018 - 2020, with in-person events that ranged in length from two to five hours. Participants dove into targeted briefs from local advocacy organizations, connected with a diverse group of civically committed people, and collaboratively generated digital media and compelling messages that spread awareness around the 2020 Census.

In the beginning of 2020, the world was faced with a complex public health environment, changing the way people conducted their everyday lives. This forced Census Accelerate to act rapidly and ensure that relevant content was still being created, especially during a time where the entire world went virtual. The virtual Create-a-thon model was born. We quickly iterated on our original toolkit model and launched the Virtual Create-a-thon toolkit so our team and partners could continue to develop promotional assets virtually.

What’s Next

As the complete and accurate count of the nation becomes more and more imperative in the coming months, cross sector collaborations and the power of civically engaged coalitions will be more critical than ever before. Census Accelerate sought out to test a new design-thinking model, to activate communities in a non-traditional way, to bring passionate folks from all walks of life together that care deeply about increasing awareness for the 2020 Census- and to work alongside the government in these outreach efforts.

The Census Accelerate Team has demonstrated how consistent, collaborative efforts can impact a feat as great as the U.S. Census. As the self-response period comes to a close, we are seeing the fruits of our labor being utilized across the nation as our shareables and video creative are helping to promote the 2020 Census to communities everywhere, our design-thinking models are impacting partners within and outside of the Census Bureau, and our big tech partnerships continue to combat misinformation around the Census online.

The replicable models we created can continue to benefit other programs, initiatives and surveys of the like. They have allowed for communities to take more ownership of the 2020 Census in what has traditionally been a government down approach. By creating an adaptable model to plug in the creative potential of our nation, and integrating the diversity of talents and trusted voices of a community, more content is available online that is relatable, compelling and effective. The census has become personal and it has become a necessary agenda item for individual and community advocacy.

Visit creativesforthecount.org to see more community generated census content