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Athena Rodriguez

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Why Standing up for the Census Still Counts

Posted by Athena Rodriguez

Wed, Nov 07, 2018

busy city street

Over a year ago, I wrote about the critical state of the U.S. Census. To recap: to stay within budget, the US Census Bureau planned to add online and phone data collection to the traditional mail and face-to-face fielding. As any good researchers would, they planned to test this new mix of methodologies using a series a field tests and an end-to-end test. 

After cancelling several field tests earlier this year, last month the bureau completed an end-to-end test in Providence County, RI, and are “ready to transition from a paper-based census to one where people can respond online using personal computers or mobile devices, by telephone through our questionnaire assistance centers or by using the traditional paper-response option.” Click here for an infographic with all the details.

Whew, right?  Not so fast—there’s still another problem. A big one.

Against the recommendation of the Census Bureau, the Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, is fighting to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.

In a memo sent to the DOJ, the bureau’s Chief Scientist and Associate Director for Research and Methodology, John Abowd, wrote the inclusion of a citizenship question would be "very costly, harms the quality of the census count, and would use substantially less accurate citizenship status data than are available from administrative sources.”

In response, opponents of the question, including the state of California, New York, and the American Civil Liberties Union, have filed lawsuits against the Federal Government—echoing Abowd’s fears that the citizen question would discourage participation and compromise the integrity of the census.

Despite a request by the Federal Government to postpone, the trial began on Monday, November 5, in New York City, and is expected to last two weeks.

As I wrote in my earlier blog, the US Census is critical to market research. It serves as the foundation for things like sampling plans, weighting data, sizing audiences, and determining who to target.

If the citizen question goes through, it may deter non-citizens from participating. This would seriously harm the quality of the data and pose a threat to the integrity of our industry—not to mention impact federal budgeting and the number of House seats.

As market researchers, it’s our duty to preserve the integrity of the US Census. Whether you support or oppose the citizenship question, I encourage you to pay close attention to how the decision plays out. We’re still a year away from the census, but what’s decided now could have far-reaching ramifications for our industry and country.

Athena is a Project Director at CMB who really hopes the next time she blogs it will be about a satisfactory resolution to this ongoing issue.

Topics: Market research, data collection

Why the Market Research Industry Must Stand up for the Census

Posted by Athena Rodriguez

Wed, Aug 23, 2017

Crowd of people_illustration-1.png

You might be forgiven if the future of the U.S. Census didn’t make your “list of things to worry about this week”. But a lack of funding coupled with the recent resignation of Census Bureau director John Thompson has put the 2020 census in danger—and the ramifications are deeply concerning.

The U.S. Census Bureau might not get the media coverage of other government entities, but it plays a critical role in our democracy, federal spending, and in the market research industry. As we prepare for the 2020 census, it’s time to start paying attention.

The U.S. Census

As a reminder, the U.S. Census, mandated by the Constitution, is a decennial survey that counts every resident in United States. The data is used to allocate Electoral College votes and congressional seats by state.  In addition, it helps the government determine how to allocate roughly $4 billion in federal funds to local communities that help pay for infrastructure like schools, hospitals, roads, public works, and other vital programs. The U.S. Census Bureau also administers the monthly American Community Survey—comprised of the long form census questions—sent to about 295k households a month. You can read more about the work of the Bureau and how the data are used here.

A New Collection Methodology Puts the Census in Danger

Replicating the 2020 census using the 2010 methodology would cost $17.8 billion, but Congress has mandated that the Census Bureau limit spending to meet the 2010 census budget ($13 billion over ten years).   

To comply, the bureau hoped to implement a new system, adding online and phone data collection, in addition to mail and in-person visits, that will ultimately keep costs in line. However, any change in methodology requires rigorous planning and testing to ensure results are accurate and replicable. For example, when moving a brand tracker from the phone to web, you typically run tandem data collections (both via phone and online) for the first wave and then compare the results. This testing requires extra work, and initially may cost more, but it’s critical to ensure the results from the new methodology are comparable and will save money in the long run. 

The scope and costs of the census far exceed my brand tracker example, and given the uncertainty of the census budget, it’s unclear whether the census will be able to properly test their new methodology before implementation. If funding isn’t there for testing, the Census Bureau runs the risk of missing the mark.

The end-to-end of the census test is still slated for 2018 but the prerequisite field tests that were to run this year have been cancelled.  The Bureau hopes to include the areas from the cancelled field tests, but that’s still up in the air.

The US Census and Market Research

The US Census serves as the backbone for all consumer market research. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that here at CMB, we use the census on a weekly basis, if not more often, for designing sampling plans, weighting data, sizing audiences, and recommending who to target. You’d be hard pressed to find a research firm that doesn’t use census information to inform its work.

To that end, if the census is flawed by undercount (resulting from a poorly-tested methodology), these errors will be reproduced in most consumer market research studies. As researchers, we’d begin to question the foundation upon which much of our research is built—as would the many businesses that use our services

The Larger Picture

If the census is underfunded, the undercount would most likely impact areas where residents are harder to reach (think lower socio-economic groups less likely to have internet access, rural populations, transient populations like seasonal workers, etc.). These areas—the very communities that need funding the most—could be deprived of vital federal funds due to disproportionate allocations.

In addition to faulty fund allocation, an underfunded, undercounted census could produce a misrepresentation of seats in our House of Representatives. In this charged political environment where everyone’s vying to be heard, it’s more important than ever to ensure we are properly represented.

What’s Next?

2020 may seem far off, but if Congress doesn’t properly fund the census now, while there’s still time for testing, we run the risk of executing a bad census, one that misrepresents the population, unfairly allocates resources, and undermines the quality and credibility of market research. I strongly encourage the market research community to stand up and make their voices heard to preserve this important institution.

 Athena is a Project Director at CMB who wants to see her daughter grow up in a world where the US Census is accurate. 

Topics: Market research, B2B research, big data

CMB Lights the Night for Cancer Research

Posted by Athena Rodriguez

Thu, Oct 13, 2016

Once again CMB is participating in Light the Night, a fundraising campaign for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, culminating in a walk on Boston Common on October 20th.  Our participation began back in 2008, when our coworker, Catherine, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  After two rounds of chemo, a stem cell transplant, and proton radiation therapy, I’m happy to report that she recently celebrated six years in remission!  

The money raised is used to fund research for new therapies and treatments (including those that saved Catherine) and ensure patient access to treatments.  Last year alone, LLS invested $67.2 million in blood cancer research.

lanterns.png

Over the past 8 years, we’ve raised over $80K—not bad for a 65 person company!  LTN is truly a company-wide endeavor, we host bake sales, BBQs, silent auctions, and a very competitive cornhole tournament.  This year we've raised over $6K, and we're still going strong. We'd like to give a big thank you to all of our clients, partners, and friends who've donated!

If you’d like to join us in the fight against cancer, please donate here or meet us on Thursday October 20th at 5PM on the Boston Common.

That's not the only way to join the CMB team, whether you are an innovation guru, a tech whiz, or a strategic selling machine, we’re looking for collaborative, engaged professionals:

Check out our open positions!

 

 

 

Topics: CMB Careers, Light the Night,, our people, Chadwick Martin Bailey

Brands Get in a Frenzy Over Shark Week

Posted by Athena Rodriguez

Wed, Aug 19, 2015

Summer brings many joys—BBQ’s, the beach, and one of my favorite holidays. . .I’m referring, of course, to Shark Week. For over 25 years, the Discovery Channel has loaded as much shark-related content as possible into a 7-day period, including TV programming, online content, and social media frenzies by both the network and other “official” (and non-official) partners.While some of these partnerships are no-brainers (e.g., Oceana, National Aquarium, and Sea Save Foundation), other less obvious partners such as Dunkin Donuts, Cold Stone Creamery, and Southwest Airlines, must get creative with their marketing to connect their brands to “the most wonderful week of the year.” Southwest, for example, offered flyers the chance to watch new content via a special Shark Week channel and to enter a sweepstakes for a chance to swim with sharks. Both Cold Stone Creamery and Dunkin Donuts debuted special treats (“Shark Week Frenzy”—blue ice cream with gummy sharks—and a lifesaver donut, respectively).

brand engagement, shark week, television

But it didn’t stop there—brands on social media found ways to tie in products to Shark Week in every way possible. Just take a look at these posts from Claire’s, Salesforce, and Red Bull.

shark week, brand engagement, television

So, what’s in it for these brands? Why go out of their way to connect themselves to something like Shark Week, which is seemingly unrelated to their services and products? It’s as simple as the concept of brand associations. Since brand associations work to form deeper bonds with customers, brands are often on the lookout for opportunities that will boost their standing with customers. Shark Week attracts millions of viewers each night, and since it’s one of the few true television events that remains, it presents the perfect opportunity for brands to engage with customers in a way they don’t often get to do. Furthermore, it demonstrates that these brands are in tune with what their customers like and what’s happening in the pop culture world. And, judging by the amount of interactions brands received from consumers, I’d say it worked.

If you missed the fun of Shark Week last month (the horror!) or just want more, don’t worry—Shweekend is just around the corner (August 29th), and I’ll be anticipating what brands can come up with this time. . .

Athena Rodriguez is a Project Consultant at CMB, and she is a certified fin fanatic. 

Speaking of social media, are you following us on Twitter? If not, get in on the fun! 

Follow Us @cmbinfo!

Topics: advertising, marketing strategy, social media, television, brand health and positioning, digital media and entertainment research

Deflategate and the Dangers of Convenience Sampling

Posted by Athena Rodriguez

Wed, Jan 28, 2015

The Patriots have landed in Phoenix for yet another Super Bowl, but there are still those who can’t stop talking about “Deflategate.” Yes, that’s what some are calling the controversy surrounding those perfectly legal 12.5 PSI inflated footballs that lost air pressure due to changing atmospheric conditions and repeated Gronking* after touchdowns during the first half of the Pats-Colts showdown.

Here in Boston, we were shocked to turn on the TV and hear the terrible accusations. Were we watching and reading the same things as the accusers? Did those doubters not watch the press conferences (all three of them) where our completely ethical coach proclaimed his team’s innocence? Did they not understand that Belichick even conducted a SCIENCE EXPERIMENT? 

Or could it be simply that the doubters live outside of New England?

athena blog

The chart above makes it pretty obvious—from Bangor to Boston, we just might have been hearing the voices of a lot more Pats fans. This is, in fact, a really simple illustration of the dangers of convenience sampling—a very common type of non-probability sampling.

Sure it’s a silly example, but as companies try to conduct research faster and cheaper, convenience sampling poses serious threats. Can you get 500 completes in a day? Yes, but there’s a very good chance they won’t be representative of the population you’re looking for. Posting a link to your survey on Facebook or Twitter is fast and free, but whose voice will you hear and whose will you miss?

I’ve heard it said that some information is better than none, but I’m not sure I agree. If you sample people that aren’t in your target, they can lead you in the completely wrong direction. If you oversample in a certain population (ahem, New Englanders) you can also suffer from a biased, non-representative sample.

Representative sampling is one of the basic tenets of survey research, but just because it’s a simple concept doesn’t mean we can afford to ignore it. Want your results to win big? Carefully review your game plan before kicking-off data collection.

  • Sample Frame: Is the proposed sample frame representative of the target population?
    • Unless you are targeting a niche population. . .
      • online panel “click-throughs” should be census balanced
      • –customer lists must be reflective of the target customers (if the population is all customers, do not use email addresses unless addresses exist for all customers or the exceptions are randomly distributed)
      • –compare the final sample to the target population just to be sure
  • Selection: Does the selection process ensure that all potential respondents on the frame have an equal chance of being recruited throughout the data collection period?
    • To be sure, you should. . .
      • randomize all lists before recruiting
      • not fill quotas first
      • not focus on hard-to-reach respondents first
  • Data collection: Will the proposed data collection plan adversely affect sample quality?
    • –Ask yourself:
      • Are fielding dates unusual (e.g., holiday, tax returns, Super Bowl, etc.)?
      • Is the schedule long enough to cover weekdays and weekends? Will it give procrastinators sufficient time to respond?
  • Structure: Will important subgroups have sufficient sample sizes if left to fall out naturally?
    • –If not, set quotas. . .
      • –Quota groups must be weighted back to their natural distribution before analysis or treated as an oversample and excluded from any analysis at the total level.
  • Size: Is the proposed sample size sufficient?
    • –We must always balance costs against sample size, but, at the same time, we must recognize that we need minimum sample sizes for certain objectives.  

Are there times you might need some quick and dirty (un-Patriot like) results? Absolutely. But, when you’re playing for big insights, you need the right team.

*spiking the football after a touchdown.

Athena Rodriguez is a Project Consultant at CMB. She’s a native Floridian, who’s looking forward to the end of the Blizzard of 2015 and the start of Sunday’s game!

Topics: Boston, television, research design, digital media and entertainment research