During a workshop with graduate students from Carnegie Mellon, we walked through a real-world case study based on the U.S. Census. The case study was based on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report COVID-19 Presents Delays and Risks to Census Count. In line with keeping a case journal, reviewing GAO reports can help you stay up to date on issues, findings, and how you might approach a case. Moreover, these reports provide a wealth of content for developing partner cases and building case interviews. For those preparing for public sector case interviews, I recommend regularly reviewing GAO reports to better understand the landscape and topical events impacting government agencies. These reports also provide insights into the types of business challenges that consultants may try to solve.

Examining this case enabled us to define the mission and importance of the census as a tool for representation, funding, and data. Census data is used by many government, nonprofit, and private sector organizations and accurate and representative data is vital to these organizations. We reviewed this case in the context of who are the major stakeholders, what are their motives, and how are they impacted by census data. We also reviewed the main avenues that census data is obtained – through technology, door-to-door, phone calls, direct mail, and partnerships with community centers. When considering this, think of this as a marketing case by thinking through the potential channels, partnerships, promotion opportunities, and how to attract potential customers (people completing the census and those impacted by the census). For instance, community centers like libraries may benefit from complete census information because this may lead to more district funding, which could affect their services and funding.

Another element of this case was looking at the priorities of the census – to provide complete and accurate data – and some of the constraints that census workers may face. With COVID-19, door-to-door census completion may be more challenging. You also need to consider people who have moved temporarily, are in disparate locations, and how to best attract underrepresented groups. Balancing this with timeline and cost are important factors.

One workshop attendee raised the very real possibility that there may be groups that do not want complete and accurate census data and that they may want to limit census data because it could lead to re-districting or impact representation against their interests. These types of insights are important when conducting your stakeholder analysis and considering risks. With any case, it is important to tie in current events, make assumptions or draw in analogies that help shape your understanding. A second workshop attendee raised the importance of building partnerships, particularly with groups that could benefit from accurate census data or local funding. As you consider the mission and goals tie your recommendations back to this mission and consider immediate term, intermediate term, and longer-term recommendations that could enhance effectiveness.

If you are interested in learning more about this case and gaining insider insights that prepare you for the social sector, join us for a Social Sector Super Saturday session on October 17th. This session will provide industry understanding and resources, best practices for crafting your resume and preparing for the behavioral interview, and a walkthrough of three cases. Prepare yourself for a social sector career and sign-up here: https://casequestions.com/social-sector-saturday/


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About the Author

Evan Piekara

Evan Piekara

With over twelve years of experience consulting and working in the government and nonprofit sectors. Evan started his nonprofit career as a member of Teach For America (TFA), where he served as a teacher, volunteer, and in operational support and training roles for the organization. He has supported BDO Public Sector in the launch of their management consulting practice and has provided strategy and operations, human capital, and information technology support to government and nonprofit clients. At BDO Public Sector, Evan led efforts building internal practice recruiting processes including interview questions, cases, and candidate evaluation criteria and developed their Graduate Advisor internship program.