Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (OMI): A Process Evaluation: Research Brief. What Factors Appear to Promote OMI Expansions?


An analysis of the OMIs implementation so far reveals three factors that appear to facilitate recruitment of workshop participants and delivery of OMI services:

An ongoing source of prospective participants facilitates recruitment. Recruitment of couples or individuals was easier when workshop leaders or sponsoring agencies had access to a continuous source of prospective participants. Agencies and institutions that could recruit participants from their existing clientele were more likely to succeed in implementing workshops and continuing them. Community volunteers unaffiliated with such an agency or organization often had difficulty recruiting participants for workshops, as did agency staff who were expected to go beyond their existing clientele to find participants. OMI staff found that individuals and agencies without a steady source of participants were especially likely to need additional training and follow-up assistance to help them identify such sources.

Existing infrastructure, such as an established enrollment process, pre-existing classes, and reliable venue, supports efficient workshop delivery.  Organizations that had pre-existing classes or group-based instruction on related topics, such as high school classes on marriage and family life, found it straightforward to incorporate OMI workshops. An established process for enrollment, such as class registration at high schools or the application process for TANF recipients, has also simplified recruitment. Having a reliable location for holding workshops was particularly important for community volunteers.

Responsiveness of the curriculum to the target populations needs is essential to engage both service providers and participants.  Any statewide initiative that strives to bring about widespread change in behavior and attitudes regarding family formation and structure must speak to the needs and interests of individuals in diverse relationship circumstances  for example, singles as well as married couples, dating adolescents as well as parents, and low-income as well as middle-class families. In the OMIs case, it appears that local implementation was more likely when the curriculum was adapted to be responsive to the circumstances of the specific population served. For example, agencies serving single parents with a history of involvement in abusive relationships were more likely to use the OMI curriculum once it was adapted to include an emphasis on how to recognize and choose healthy partners in the future.

The OMIs experience to date also highlights the importance of addressing issues that can arise in the organizations enlisted as partners in a marriage initiative. Two of these issues  closely related to each other  concern buy-in from staff, and the degree of fit between the goals of the marriage initiative and the partner organization.

Buy-in of agency frontline staff promotes implementation success. The experiences of several agencies in the OMIs early years indicates that although an organization or agency may have the right tracks on which to run the OMI workshops, and even have the support of high level leadership, frontline staff might not automatically welcome or wholeheartedly support it. Lack of buy-in by frontline staff was associated with a lower volume of workshops. Relatedly, when high-level agency support changed, services simply withered. These experiences suggest that inviting the input and feedback of frontline staff and responding to their concerns is important to strong and sustained implementation.

The fit between OMI goals and the mission and priorities of partnering organizations is critical.  Some institutions, agencies, or organizations may be attractive as marriage initiative partners due to their focus on families, their accessibility to potential participants, or their management of a statewide infrastructure. However, agency culture and mission usually entail well-defined priorities, such as rehabilitation for prison inmates, prevention of further offenses among juvenile offenders, general education of youth, or employment for parents receiving government assistance. Instruction in relationship skills was well aligned with the youth-focused education mission of Family and Consumer Sciences teachers in Oklahomas high schools, which contributed to their enthusiastic and widespread use of the OMIs curriculum. In general, leadership and staff were most likely to embrace a marriage initiatives goals when they were supportive of and in line with the agencys pre-existing priorities.

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