Five Ways to Prepare Your City for Next Year’s Census

March 29, 2019 - (3 min read)

The Census Bureau has spent the past nine years preparing for the country’s largest domestic mobilization effort: the count of every individual in America based on where they reside on and around April 1, 2020. This upcoming Monday marks one year out from the long-awaited “Census Day.”

Now is the time for cities to lay the groundwork for a successful census. Small steps your community takes today can go a long way in ensuring it is accurately counted next year. Here are five steps to consider in 2019:

Get Familiar with NLC’s 2020 Census Resource Center and Municipal Action Guide

The National League of Cities (NLC) has spent the past year developing and curating a host of resources to answer any questions local leaders may have relating to the upcoming census. Local leaders can read and share our resources widely at

Designate a Point of Contact for Census Preparedness in Your Community

Who’s in charge for your local government? Cities, towns and villages should consider designating a point of contact for local census preparedness operations. Different communities will have different levels of need or resources for census preparedness but tasking one lead person can help ensure communication with your city is clear and efficient. For larger cities, this may mean a new dedicated staffer; for smaller communities, this may mean designating an existing employee in your Office of Community Engagement or Planning Office. Once designated, make sure your census contact is plugged into NLC’s Local Census Preparedness Network by completing our survey.

Work in Tandem with Census Bureau Staff and Regional Offices

The Bureau already operates six regional offices; it will be opening more than 200 field offices, and will continue to hire partnership specialists to work with municipal partners to ensure coordination across levels of government. Local governments serve as a critical partner in helping the Bureau know where to count residents—make sure to respond to Bureau inquiries and share data you may have to identify hard-to-count neighborhoods in your community. Also be sure to notify the Bureau if your community forms a complete count committee.

Find the Trusted Voices in Your Community and Get them Onboard

Local government remains the most trusted level of the government in survey after survey. Still, a growing climate of fear and declining trust in civic institutions has left some populations distrustful of all levels of government. Residents need to hear from community voices they trust: educators, small business owners, medical professionals, religious leaders, community activists and local media. Local leaders are uniquely positioned to convene these voices and make sure they understand what an accurate count means to your community.

Form a Complete Count Committee

As mentioned, to ensure a complete and accurate count, you need to engage your community and develop trusted voices to provide information and motivation to residents of your city. One proven tool is the Complete Count Committee (CCC), a volunteer organizing body created at the local level to increase awareness of and participation in the census. In the 2010 cycle, more than 10,000 CCCs were formed around the country.

Brian Egan small.jpgAbout the Author: Brian Egan is NLC’s Principal Associate for Finance, Administration and Intergovernmental Relations. Follow him on Twitter @BeegleME.



Alex Jones smallAlex Jones is the manager of NLC’s Local Democracy Initiative, where his work focuses on unveiling the extent and effect of state intervention in city governance. Previously, he was a senior policy analyst at the Brookings Institution and strategic adviser to its Centennial Scholar Initiative.