Forecasting a new digital standard for the U.S. Census with The Illuminator, Christina Stoehr

Experience Maker Christina Stoehr.

“Prioritizing the digital user experience was key to making 2020 Census possible and accomplishing a successful count.” - Christina Stoehr, branch chief, Web and New Media, U.S. Census Bureau

What is the point of counting every resident in the country?

In the words of the U.S. Census Bureau, “the census tells us who we are and where we are going as a nation, and helps our communities determine where to build everything from schools to supermarkets, and from homes to hospitals. It helps the government decide how to distribute funds and assistance to states and localities. It is also used to draw the lines of legislative districts and reapportion the seats each State holds in Congress.”

Given this impact, it was critical for the U.S. Census Bureau to pivot away from traditional survey collection methods and toward a digitized solution. For the first time in 200 years, the 2020 census was offered online in a fast, reliable, safe, and secure digital experience.

I sat down with Christina Stoehr, branch chief of Web and New Media at the U.S. Census Bureau to uncover how they made this incredible shift with such enormous implications on the country, all within the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Illuminating a digital path forward

The Illuminator award is a new addition to the 2021 lineup of Adobe Experience Maker Award categories. It recognizes resiliency and the ability to rise above unprecedented circumstances like COVID-19, exemplified by the U.S. Census Bureau team.

“Planning for the 2020 census started over a decade ago, but I don’t think any amount of crisis planning included accounting for the possibility of a pandemic,” Christina told me.

While the bureau planned to go digital for 2020 with a mobile-first and web experience approach, the team was laser-focused on seeing a decade’s worth of planning through to a successful count. They used Adobe Experience Cloud to implement a full digital transformation, harnessing site visitor data to inform better site navigation with Adobe Analytics, ensuring scalable and secure content to power the census websites on Adobe Experience Manager, and optimizing ads with Adobe Target to encourage greater participation.

Along with the trusted voices of over 400,000 national and community partners, the Bureau successfully reached 67 percent of U.S. households through their efforts.

Aligned to one, singular mission

The core of this Illuminator category truly is resilience. I asked Christina what helped her team stay motivated and productive through the disruption:

“For us it was about reframing those challenges that we were faced with, turning them into positive efforts that helped us remember our overall mission and purpose. Personally, it was about being flexible and agile and going into projects knowing things were going to change. Our teams showed how, even after a decade worth of planning, we were able to keep our eyes on supporting the mission.”

This mission cannot be understated — the data collected by the census is used to distribute billions of dollars in federal funds to local communities.

“It has been an honor representing the bureau and being recognized as The Illuminator. We aimed to light that path through the unexpected and unprecedented circumstances. Taking a constitutionally mandated survey and turning it into a successful digital experience was a huge win for us.”

Forecasting the future

Christina shared with me that her career sights were initially set on being a meteorologist.

Friends and family know to ask her about the weather because, chances are, she is watching it. During our interview, we laughed at the parallels to her role as branch chief of Web and New Media. Both are data-driven professions, they require making the complex simple, and above all, they are both hugely important to each of our daily lives.

I asked Christina’s best advice for next year’s applicants and all digital experience professionals.

“Even when things are hectic, take a moment and remember your purpose. When you’re curating an experience, curate for the users — not about them.”

The impact of the 2020 census cannot be overstated. But, the resilient efforts of Christina and her team to digitize the process and achieve a successful count truly serves as an inspiration to all Experience Makers facing new challenges.

On behalf of the nation, thank you to Christina and the Bureau for all that you do.

Honoring the Movers and Shakers. Learn more about the Adobe Experience Maker Awards.