Sesame Street

Inside Sesame Workshop’s impact strategy for hard-to-reach communities

In this special Kid Insight column, Sesame Street in Communities (SSIC) discusses its approach to creating content designed to make a difference in less-accessible populations.
May 1, 2023

By Sofia Polo, Stefanie Cousins and David Cohen

Children’s content has the power to positively impact children’s lives in ways that ripple through generations, and that’s the reason why many of us do what we do. But while we may try to deliver content that authentically reaches a diverse range of families, we have to ask: Are we achieving that goal? And if not, how can we do better?

At Sesame Street in Communities (SSIC), we’ve tried to formalize the answer to this second question. Although our efforts lean on the reach and resources of Sesame Workshop, we believe that elements of our model can be incorporated by other companies that want to more strategically develop and distribute their content (or supporting campaigns) to specific or hard-to-reach communities.


Partner up!

Identify potential partners with strong connections to local communities, such as healthcare organizations, nonprofits and educational institutions. We believe that a key part of success here is giving community stakeholders co-leadership roles right from the beginning. Here are some questions to consider.

Population: Is there a group of people that you are specifically interested in creating content for? If so, reach out to social service organizations that provide outreach to that community.

Subject matter: Who might have subject matter expertise or an interest in your topic? It’s helpful to consider community partners who can contribute ideas and who will also benefit from the outcome.

Capabilities: What can the community partner realistically offer for the delivery and implementation of content? Successful partnerships begin with clearly communicated expectations about responsibilities and level of involvement.


Do your research!

Now it’s time to get to know the community—like, REALLY get to know it. Get out there (or go online) to conduct interviews, focus groups or surveys to understand your target population’s context, needs, beliefs and attitudes as related to your topic. Connecting with the community in this way will also give you the opportunity to learn about effective ways of distributing the content. Here are some tips to get you started.

Use step 1: Community partners likely have relationships with the people you want to reach. Engage them by asking them to help recruit research participants, host focus groups or review interview questions to ensure that they are culturally and linguistically sensitive.

Choose the right methodology: Focus groups and interviews, for example, let participants tell stories that highlight their lived experience, and they work great for research that’s meant to inform decisions about an upcoming project. There are also online platforms (such as bulletin boards) that provide a freeform space for research participants to respond to your questions in writing. You do not need to recruit hundreds of research participants—many SSIC studies recruit as few as 25 people for this type of research.

Hire a research consulting firm: Not all of this needs to fall on your shoulders, and there are often affordable options.


Spread the word!

Let the results of your research guide your content development and distribution. Having the help of community partners at this point is essential. As you know, it’s challenging for any content or campaign to capture the attention of busy parents with young children, especially those from underserved communities. However, when a trusted community organization disseminates the content, those parents are more likely to see it, trust it, and absorb its messaging. Here are some suggestions.

  • Organize family-friendly events at local schools or community centers where materials are distributed.
  • Conduct sessions to show healthcare providers and caregivers how to access and use the materials.
  • Work with librarians and healthcare providers to connect with community members.
Kid insight


Let’s take a look at how this works on the ground. In 2018, SSIC launched an oral health initiative targeting Black and immigrant families with young children in Los Angeles County. We set out to address how content could improve oral health outcomes for young children.

Why oral health? According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in young children, and it affects high-risk children beginning in infancy and early childhood. Children with poor oral health miss more school days and receive lower grades than children with good oral health.

We became aware of this issue as part of a National Maternal and Child Oral Health Policy Center meeting in Washington, DC in 2006. Once we identified the opportunity for content to play a role in improving this outcome, we set about building our strategy.

Partner selection: We decided to partner with the UCLA School of Dentistry because it was determined that SSIC resources would be a valuable complement to its existing “More LA Smiles” children’s health awareness campaign.

Research: We partnered with Fluent Research, a consulting firm with expertise in children’s media and community-based research. They were selected through a competitive RFP process based on their experience in conducting research and evaluations of media-based resources and initiatives with young children and their caregivers. The research consisted of a series of interviews and focus groups with parents, early childhood educators, and dentists who serve Black, Latino, Korean, Chinese and Filipino families in Los Angeles. SSIC’s community partners played an instrumental role in carrying out this research by identifying and recruiting hard-to-reach research participants.

Analysis: The research highlighted specific financial, psychological and immigration-related factors that make accessing oral healthcare a challenge for parents, and pinpointed common misconceptions and hesitations around diet, oral hygiene and dentist visits. The research also identified schools, daycares and doctors’ offices as trusted settings for accessing information about parenting and health.

Execution: SSIC and its community partners developed several strategies for distributing the content, including events at schools and clinics, the distribution of booklets and online videos to childcare and healthcare providers, and a social media campaign that involved local businesses and organizations posting bilingual graphics and videos promoting the importance of tooth brushing (featuring Elmo and Grover, of course!). SSIC also worked with community partners to install Sesame Street-themed “Comfy-Cozy Spaces” in their facilities, where children can play with plush Sesame Street Muppet toys and parents have access to the oral health content.

Results & follow-up: After one year, a review of the campaign’s reach found that it had exceeded its goals, generating nearly 700,000 views of the oral health videos and increasing SSIC’s following on Facebook by 112%.

This is just one example of how SSIC uses its community-centered model to develop content and supporting campaigns that successfully target hard-to-reach populations. Although it has its challenges, even small steps toward blending aspects of this model into your content development and distribution process can make a difference.

At the end of the day, infusing community voices into content helps producers make more authentic programming, but it also ends up having a much deeper impact on the people and audiences who are targeted to consume it.

David Cohen is senior director of content research at Sesame Workshop. Stefanie Cousins is VP of marketing and communications at Fluent Research. And Sofia Polo is director of research strategy at Fluent Research.

This story originally appeared in Kidscreen‘s April/May 2023 magazine. 

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