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Counties Prepare for the 2020 Census: The Importance of Partnerships

Editor’s Note: As counties continue to prepare for a successful 2020 Census, VACo will be highlighting innovative approaches and ideas to promote Census participation. VACo members: have a great idea for Census outreach? Please share with Katie Boyle or Joe Lerch so that VACo can feature your program in an upcoming edition of County Connections!

With an estimated 65 percent of Arlington County’s population living in areas designated as “hard to count,” Arlington County staff and members of the local Complete Count Committee are enlisting a vast network of community organizations to help get the word out about the importance of the Census. Dr. Bryna Helfer, Assistant County Manager for Communication and Public Engagement, thinks of Census outreach as a grassroots campaign. “It will take the whole community” to ensure a successful Census, she told VACo, pointing out the importance of County residents hearing the same message from several trusted messengers. Dr. Helfer listed residents with limited English proficiency, young children, and renters as examples of community members the County hopes to work with community partners to reach.

After holding a stakeholder mapping exercise to identify potential partners who could help spread the word about the importance of participating in the Census, Arlington Complete Count Committee members and County staff began recruiting community partners, who commit to amplifying this message by sharing information with their networks. Approximately 120 organizations have signed up to be partners, with plans for many more to join the effort. Partner organizations include civic associations, apartment complexes, nonprofits, institutions of higher education, military installations, and congregations; the County plans to continue outreach with the business community, the faith community, PTAs, sports teams, and many other community groups.

Arlington County will offer training to partners and will supply a toolkit of messaging materials, to include materials translated into languages other than English. The County has been adjusting its approach as it works with partners, recognizing that some organizations need more resources from the County, and some organizations bring resources with them (such as a cadre of volunteers). Dr. Helfer is hopeful that the investment the County and its partners are making in building relationships will create a foundation of trust that will support joint efforts beyond the 2020 Census. In the near term, Arlington County has high hopes for the benefits of its collaboration with its community partners. Asked to offer advice to other counties that may be interested in adopting a similar approach, Dr. Helfer suggested that a locality identify all of its potential partners who may be able to assist in conveying the message. “A County-wide Census benefits all of us,” she said.

Additional information about Arlington’s Census Partner program is available at

VACo Contact: Katie Boyle

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