Houston Case Study Files

Best Practices:
2010 Census
'Houston Counts!'

Houston Language Bank

principals have been deeply involved in the region's diverse communications challenge since 1980.  ACSSC founders and staff have provided translation assistance to City Departments across the public information spectrum.  These communication specialists were instrumental in designing and executing the unprecedented success of Houston's 2010 Census response.

 

Houston Case Study: 21st Century Regional Communication Solutions

Prior to the advent of the Internet, providing international language access for all constituencies of the region was cost-prohibitive, in printing, mailing, media and distribution costs.  The translation work itself, while labor intensive to ensure accurate message rendering, was affordable, and in many instances contributed, or cost-discounted, due to the public interest nature of the work.

Now, "in-language pages" can be embedded in, or hyperlinked to, existing websites, as was executed so effectively by the 2010 Census.gov website.  This website embedded a 60-language menu on its 2010 Census information home page.  In the five years since the Census website was designed, the technological advances in programming simplification have exploded. 

This innovative multilingual information strategy enabled local communication professionals and community influencers to drive their respective language audiences to the Census site and specific in-language hyperlinks in much-needed primary languages. 

The 2010 Houston Counts campaign emerged as the very first local test case for proving a measurable response-performance basis for an effective multilingual communication strategy.

It worked.  After 4 decades of chronic, ever-growing Census undercounts, costing our region hundreds of millions in lost federal dollars for economic and other development support, this 2010 increase in Houston's Census response rates ranked second highest among the nation's 10 largest cities.  While nationwide response rates remained flat, Houston's 6% increase in Census count documented an additional 125,000 residents, projecting an additional $278.5M of our own federal tax dollars returned to support our region. 

Ultimately, expensing the costs of translations, formatting and web attachment programming is well within the budgets of public sector agencies.  It is merely a matter of solution awareness and the will to engage their constituencies.

Wasting Tax Dollars

For multi-lingual translations of high demand public information, glossy, colored, ink-rich print brochures are prohibitively expensive to produce for the public sector, and too costly to download for distribution among constituent groups.  Poorly translated voice over videos produce more audience distraction that effective message rendering.

Overcoming Institutional Resistance

New information technology now exists to essentially solve this communication access problem.  But, our long-term, collective work experience with regional public sector entities indicates a strong and persistent resistance to both the acknowledgment of the need, as well as an acceptance of the available remedies to the problem.  This is a dangerously complacent, outdated mindset for public sector decision makers in our 21st century global city.  If, in the worse case disaster scenario, hundreds of thousands of Greater Houston residents do not get the warning message, then what?  Case Study Examples: 

 

The Case Against Google Instant Translation

Houston Language Bank, June 2013

Best Intentions with Unintended Consequences...

In 2013, a well meaning elected official in Harris County used Google Instant Translation
in posting an important announcement about combating Human Trafficking in the region.  That Google Instant Translation in Vietnamese read so poorly that it described the elected official as personally involved in Human Trafficking.  Not helpful, at all!

Until Google Instant Translation performs accurately in conveying the message, it's best to steer clear of utilizing it for communication vital public information.

 


Case Study Examples

Spring 2011

When challenged on the inadequacy of poorly translated Hurricane Preparedness messaging for Vietnamese and Chinese seniors, a long-time senior manager at a key regional public agency explained that they were doing" the best" they could. When queried as to why efforts are not made to extend critical information for others, like our Cambodian or Korean communities, the senior manager responded, "We can't afford to inform everyone".

 

2004 - 2010

When Vietnamese and Chinese translated web pages were requested for a regional public sector website promoting transportation options to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality, the agency's senior IT director dismissed the idea as impractical and too much trouble.  The agency managers readily relied on their IT director's assessment, as it allowed decision makers to avoid leaving their comfort zone.

 

Fall 2011

In discussions with city staff in a public safety department, recommendations for translated policy, safety and permitting regulations were met with the explanation that the city was only required to provide information in a single foreign language, namely Spanish.  The need for other language translations was never included in policy making because it was not mandated by State or federal law.

 

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