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Example 1: The #1 Question Campaign: A campaign to promote the well-being of children and youth in the greater Kansas City area


In the Fall of 1991, the Partnership for Children was created as a 10-year initiative with the mission of creating powerful new voices on behalf of children in the Kansas City metropolitan area. The Kansas City metropolitan area is a geographical area composed of five counties, two in Kansas and three in Missouri. Approximately 468,000 children (less than 19 years old) live in this area of the Midwest, with significant differences across counties in average household income and the percentage of families in poverty. In the mid 1990's, several issues indicated the well-being of children in the metro area was at risk. The incidence of confirmed reports of child abuse and neglect was increasing, 15% of children ages 1-5 years were receiving WIC benefits, and less than 50% of children in day care were supervised by degreed or certified providers. Teen birth rates, drug use, and juvenile arrest rates were increasing. Only 73% of high school students graduated.

In response to such facts and the increasing awareness that a greater engagement of all Kansas Citians was necessary to make a significant difference in the lives of local children, the Partnership for Children created the #1 Question Campaign. As stated in their own material, "The #1 Question Campaign is a bold effort to bring a metropolitan area together around the needs of its children and youth. The campaign's long-range goal is to make the well-being of our children and youth the community's number one priority - part of every citizen's daily agenda. A local children's movement, the #1 Question Campaign employs a combination of proven marketing techniques - research, product positioning, brand identification, advertising, direct mail, and public relation - blended with critical grassroots organizing and outreach strategies. The designed purpose is to heighten the awareness about the needs of Kansas City area young people and generate massive and unprecedented community support and involvement on their behalf." The #1 Question is "Is it good for the children?" The initiative's leadership believed that if people in the Kansas City area would ask this question when making decisions, that the community would be a better place for children to grow up.


A social marketing approach was chosen by the Partnership for Children because it wanted to reach as many in the Kansas City metropolitan area as possible. In addition, the initiative sought to make long term changes in behavior, permanently embedding the question "Is it good for the children?" into the decision making process of not only individuals, but also local and regional governing councils and businesses. The leadership envisioned a community in which use of the question was so well publicized and widespread, it would be unusual not to use the #1 Question in decision making. The Partnership for Children dedicated four full time staff and financial resources from multiple sources such as the Robert Wood Johnson and Ewing Marion Kauffman foundations to conduct the campaign.


In developing the #1 Question Campaign, the Partnership for Children needed to establish what was important to people living in Kansas City. They did so in several ways. First, they conducted four focus groups of approximately 20 people each. Each group consisted of males or females, Caucasians or African Americans who lived in the Kansas City metro area. In addition phone surveys were conducted in 1500 households across the five counties, asking people what they wanted Kansas City to be known for. The two most highly and consistently ranked issues were a concern for children and education. As a result, the #1 Question Campaign was born - out of a Hopi Indian tradition in which the tribal council asked "Is it good for the children?" prior to enacting any changes in tribal law or practice.

The Partnership purposely did not target the campaign at a specific demographic group, e.g. parents, as it wished to reach everyone. However, it was strategic in engaging those people who might have the greatest influence on the greatest number of additional people. The campaign was seen as a global one - one which would benefit all people, regardless of race, socioeconomic status or residence.

The primary argument for using the #1 Question in daily decision-making was that it would provide a better quality of life for children in the Kansas City metro area. Personally, adults would benefit from it because they would feel good about helping children in their community. The community would benefit in that its children would be healthier and their outcomes for the future improved.


Four broad goals were identified by the leadership of the initiative. They included: 1) the increased involvement of adults in the lives of their own children; 2) the increased involvement of adults in the lives of other people's children; 3) increased numbers of individuals influencing policies that affect children and youth; and 4) the development of a vehicle for people who want to support children and youth, but are limited by time and circumstances. Basic marketing principles were used to increase the likelihood of the campaigns success. The campaign's product was incorporation of the #1 Question into the decision making process of everyone in the Kansas City metro area, at both an individual and business/institutional level. This would happen in any place decisions were made. The price would vary largely depending on the decision to be made. Purchasing fruit and juice instead of cookies and candy have very different costs then deciding to stop smoking or quitting a job that requires working 70 hours a week to spend more time with one's children. The Question was promoted through multiple media domains (radio, television, and newsprint ads), faith communities, social agencies and school organizations, and businesses. 450 prominent Kansas City leaders from area business, civic, and faith communities were identified, personally contacted by the campaign's staff, and challenged to adopt the question in both their personal and professional lives. School boards and directors of agencies were similarly contacted, and if committed, encouraged to discuss policy and the merits of change in light of the #1 Question.

No one group was singled out as most likely to make the most difference in affecting the well-being of children. Those in business might influence the establishment of child friendly business practices, those in local government would make decisions affecting public recreational facilities and safety practices, those who were parents, teachers, or after school care providers could directly engage and mentor children. The strength of the initiative was in its recognition that all people and their decisions were somewhat interconnected and could potentially affect children's lives. The anticipated benefit for using the #1 Question in decision making was the increased well-being of Kansas City area children and youth - increased physical, mental, and social health; increased opportunities for education, growth, and security; and increased success and support in transition to adulthood.

In general, the Partnership for Children believed using the #1 Question in day to day decisions would create an environment in which children's concerns would be a priority. Nine specific behavioral objectives of the program were identified: 1) to double volunteerism among adults in the KC metro area within three years of the initiative's implementation; 2) increase volunteerism among youth by 10%; 3) convince one-third of the 100 major corporations to adopt child-friendly corporate policies; 4) have public officials adopt the #1 Question as a guide to their public policy decisions; 5) increase positive alternatives to youth violence; 6) increase immunizations rates to 80%; 7) increase participation in training by Child Care Providers; 8) increase compensation for Child Care Providers; and 9) establish a public/private youth fund to open schools after regular hours.


Potential partners in the campaign were often the same people targeted for change. 450 community leaders, those whom the Partnership felt clearly had influence over others, were identified from its database of 52,000 supporters. Leaders came from various spheres of influence, including the faith community, neighborhoods, and business and commerce sectors. A broad spectrum of leadership was represented, tapping into multiple networks of people through out the greater Kansas City area. Influential partners were seen as individuals who would spread the message through their networks, provide accurate knowledge and insight into the campaign's message, and motivate others to start using the #1 Question in their daily decision-making. Each leader was expected to work within his or her own sphere of influence to bring about change.

The Partnership for Children engaged in fund raising to support the #1 Question Campaign, but found it difficult as many funders did not understand social marketing and focused on supporting agencies or programs. The Robert Wood Johnson, Ewing Marion Kauffman , and Kansas Health Foundations recognized the potential impact of a social marketing campaign and provided the core financial support for the campaign. Other sources of funding were secured, but comprised a much smaller portion of the total dollars spent.

Research institutions were engaged to help conduct surveys and evaluate the community's concerns. Once the campaign had clearly focused its efforts, experts in marketing and media awareness were brought in to create TV and radio spots targeted at business, school, and civic leaders in addition to parents.


All adults in the metropolitan area were targeted as potential users of the #1 Question in their daily lives. Their behavior would be key to creating an environment in which children's issues and their welfare would be put first by the community. Marketing research suggested certain groups would be more likely to be concerned or motivated by children's issues, especially women 24-45 years of age. Others might have wide networks of influence, such as business or civic leaders, or heads of faith communities. Individuals within these categories were especially targeted in media ads and personal contact. People were encouraged to use the #1 Question in all situations that required a decision.

In order to increase the readiness and receptivity of people in the Kansas City area to the campaign's goals, the initiative needed to increase knowledge about children's issues and surface the importance of children's well-being to the community and the future. The initiative implemented the #1 Question Campaign in three phases: first, it increased awareness of the question (and how it might affect one's decisions) through advertising; second, it challenged business and civic leaders, governing councils, schools and social agencies, and individuals to commit to using it in making decisions; and finally, it encouraged and reinforced the actual behavior changes that resulted.

Focus groups and phone surveys of the Kansas City metropolitan area indicated that people were already strongly motivated around issues of child well-being and education. The Partnership for Children had been publishing a well-recognized Annual Report Card for several years, outlining the state of children's issues (e.g., health, education, child care, safety and security, and teen concerns) in the metropolitan area. Statistics around the behavioral objectives (e.g. current levels of volunteerism, immunization rates, etc.) were ascertained through current government agency statistics (i.e., the state public health department) and telephone opinion surveys so subsequent surveys could measure if the campaign was effective in bringing about awareness, behavioral change, and engagement around youth.


The campaign wanted to specifically increase adult involvement in the lives of their own and other's children, increase the number of people influencing policies that affect children and youth, and develop a vehicle for people who wanted to support children and youth but were limited by time and circumstances.

What would be the consequences if such goals were attained? Potential results might include (but are not limited to) improved educational outcomes for children and youth, improved adult-youth communications, decreased youth violence and adolescent mental illness, elevation in rates of school success (e.g., high school graduation rates, school activity involvement), increased availability of after-school programs or mentoring programs which link community adults with local children, increased outdoor and indoor public recreation facilities, decreased numbers of untrained child care providers, and a decrease in the incidence of child neglect and abuse.

Personal factors that might increase or decrease these outcomes include a person's knowledge of children and youth's need for adult supervision, their beliefs in their own effectiveness (e.g., Could I make a positive difference in a child's life?), their knowledge of the availability of opportunities, and their confidence in the abilities and skills they have to offer. Environmental factors that might increase or decrease the likelihood of desired behaviors to occur include competing messages for adult time (e.g., making more money so your child can go to private schools or have certain items will have a greater impact on their future than spending time with him/her now), the perceived availability of opportunities to interact with children or youth, the recent culture of fear regarding 'strangers' spending time with children other than their own, the lack of recruitment from nontraditional professions as leaders of youth oriented activities(e.g., only asking mothers of Girl Scout Troup members to be leaders, instead of asking local business and governing council women), and the publication of volunteer activities by local community and business leaders. Broader conditions that may affect the behaviors and outcomes of the campaign include cultural beliefs about people's interconnectedness and responsibility for one another's well-being, and cultural emphasis on needing time for oneself or putting one's self and own needs first.


In order for the campaign to succeed, the Partnership for Children incorporated three tried and true components from marketing research to "sell" the campaign's message: 1) they needed to have a good product; 2) they needed to conduct good market research about issues important to the community; and 3) they needed to spend lots on advertising. However, they knew advertising would be futile if the product (the #1 Question) wasn't connected to and imbedded in the community, so they engaged grassroots organizations and faith communities in addition to the efforts made by staff with Kansas City Leaders to spread the word.

The Partnership for Children chose the "Is it good for the children" message not only because it reflected an important issue around which the community would rally, but also because it was easy to remember and simple to understand. It could be integrated into every day decisions without setting aside additional time or resources. However, if it were used consistently, it could dramatically increase the awareness of how adults' decisions affect the quality of life for local children and youth. Advertising in the media included real people from the Kansas City area instead of actors, both children and adults. The adults' names and their connection to the Kansas City area (e.g., who they worked for) were included in the ads to increase their credibility. The ads had a thoughtful yet warm tone, with the scripts relaying how each person incorporated the #1 Question into their daily lives. The people in the ads represented multiple racial/ethnic identities and different potential groups of change agents, including business people, leaders of faith communities, school and community action council members, and parents. Prior to airing the media aspect of the campaign, the scripts of the commercials were piloted with community members for the clarity and accuracy of the message.

Incorporating the #1 Question into daily decision making was made easier to do by emphasizing its simplicity and presenting it as not yet another "thing to do", but instead as an extension of what one already does every day. In addition to emphasizing the simplicity of using the #1 Question, media spots encouraged listeners and viewers to envision the difference putting children first would make in the life of the community. In order to encourage the adoption of goals set by the Partnership (e.g., adults spending time with their own children and others' children, etc.), the Partnership set objectives that would improve people's abilities to spend more time with children, such as encouraging child-friendly business policies like flexible work hours or volunteering in child and youth centered programs. They also pushed governing councils to act on their commitments to use the #1 Question in policy decisions that would affect children's well-being by publicizing their commitments to their constituents and encouraging their constituents to hold them accountable for their decisions against the #1 Question framing.

Other strategies to make adoption of the behavior more probable included publicly thanking those who had used the #1 Question at organizational functions, like dinners sponsored by the United Way, and through opinion-editorials in local newspapers. Jim Caccamo, then executive director of the Partnership for Children, wrote 35 articles related to the #1 Question over a three year time period. The Partnership also encouraged local media to use the question at the end of each editorial piece. Additionally, individuals received hand written thank you notes from the Partnership for utilizing the #1 Question in a decision they had made.


In order to increase the impact of the message, media spots were shown at strategic times in order to reach specific target audiences. For example, air time was bought on the Lifetime channel in order to reach women ages 24-45 years because market research indicated that particular audience was more likely to watch that channel. In order to reach business and civic leaders, media spots were shown during morning news shows. Although the campaign was aimed at all Kansas Citians, media messages were somewhat created to increase the likelihood of various audiences identifying with certain characters. Audiences would see themselves in the actors and identify with their message. Messages included representatives from the business community, various faith communities, school and education leaders, and parents in general. The message was presented simply and succinctly. Primary channels of influence identified included professional associations, business leaders, broadcast media, faith communities, local neighborhood groups, and public/local government agencies. Examples in the media spots questioned what affect it would have if different groups (e.g., businesses, doctors, school superintendents) used the question daily in their professions. Subsequent radio spots talked about children's concepts of a promise and its importance and called upon parents to promise to use the #1 Question before making any decisions. Similar spots were aimed at business people and using the #1 Question as business decisions affected children too.


Little revision of the campaign's components was necessary because of the extensive preplanning. Marketing research regarding what behaviors people were willing to do and their opinions about the importance of children in the community and their health were conducted early in the campaign. Focus groups provided additional feedback. As a result, the Partnership felt it was unnecessary to actually pretest media spots with the public prior to airing them.


The social marketing campaign was launched in April of 1997. Television ads ran for six weeks, and again the following October and February. Radio spots continued intermittently through December 2000, encouraging community members to keep their promises to use the #1 Question in daily decision making. More than 100 faith communities participated in a 'Children's Sabbath', in which faith leaders delivered sermons/homilies on children's issues and encouraged congregants to use the #1 Question as a framing in their decision making. All 450 identified Kansas City area leaders were contacted by Campaign staff and challenged to adopt the question in both their private and professional lives. Masters of ceremonies at public and private events were recruited to address the #1 Question in their dedications and prayers.


The University of Kansas Center for Community Health and Development was employed to evaluate the campaign's success at raising awareness and creating behavior change in the Kansas City metropolitan area around issues of child and youth well-being. The Center conducted phone surveys of 300 people in each of the five counties on an annual basis to inquire about people's familiarity with the campaign, their levels of volunteerism and support of youth organizations, and their actions to support community caring for children and youth (e.g., voting on certain bond issues, writing elected or appointed officials regarding their concerns). A tracking system was created to assess how awareness and behavior changed in the Kansas City area, documenting the community changes and response to the campaign from January of 1996 through December of 1998.

Changes directly influenced by the Partnership included Bank of America and Utilicorp adopting a flextime policy so their employees could volunteer with youth up to two hours a week and the Kauffman Foundation granting $1,000,000 for scholarships to improve child care providers' skills. The community's response to the #1 Question campaign indirectly brought about changes that would benefit area children and youth, too. One group used the question as a way to defeat a proposed zoning change that would have allowed any convenience store with two or more gas pumps to sell liquor in their community. Another used it as a rallying point to prevent the establishment of a self-wash carwash near several schools and churches because community members were concerned about potential drug-dealing activities at the site. In choosing to support a referendum to establish new park space, voters were encouraged to consider the #1 Question when in the ballot booth.

The Partnership for Children strongly felt the goals of the campaign benefited the entire Kansas City community, both children and adults. The community would gain from healthy children growing up surrounded by caring adults and a supportive environment. The potential benefit to the area's children and thus the greater community far outweighed the additional burden of considering the question when making decisions.


A large celebration accompanied the kick off of the social marketing campaign and subsequent Report Cards put out by the Partnership. Articles were published in the opinion editorials thanking Kansas City philanthropy for using the #1 Question to advance issues for children in the community. In addition, thank you notes were sent out though out the campaign to thanks those who had publicly used the question to guide their decision making.

The #1 Question Campaign is ongoing. Long-term sustainability has been elusive, however, because of lack of long-term funding sources and changing leadership. Grass root and community organization involvement has decreased and the focus has changed somewhat, yet the campaign's "Is it good for the children?" message was so "sticky", it is still highly recognized in the Kansas City area.

As told by Jim Caccamo, former Executive Director for the Partnership for Children, to Valorie Carson, research associate for the KU Center for Community Health and Development. Context and history were obtained from Francisco, V.T. (1999). Evaluation Report for the #1 Question Campaign of the Partnership for Children. Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas.