Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (OMI): A Process Evaluation. Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service

05/23/2008

The Cooperative Extension Service is the outreach arm of the Department of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources at Oklahoma State University.  It has offices in 76 of the states 77 counties, with two to three full-time educators in each office (about 200 educators total).  These educators are responsible for providing not-for-credit classes and information to all interested residents.  The courses are designed to address local concerns and issues and typically fall into one of four program areas: (1) agriculture, (2) family and consumer sciences (FCS), (3) 4-H and youth development, and (4) community and rural development.  Topics in the FCS area include family economic well-being, financial management, nutrition and health, and parenting.

After being approached by the OMI in 2001, the Family and Consumer Sciences Department of the Cooperative Extension Service entered into a contract with OMI to offer PREP® workshops.  The contract included funding for a small portion of the salaries of Cooperative Extension educators and an administrator, in addition to funding for training, materials, and travel. Under the contract, educators were not required to provide workshops, but support was provided for those who did choose to become trained and offer the curriculum.  

Workshop activity.  During the first several years there was a moderately high level of OMI activity, with educators receiving PREP® training and providing workshops.  Educators liked the PREP® curriculum and felt that workshop participants reacted positively to the material.  A total of 41 educators were trained, and 54 percent of them led five or more workshops.  Cooperative Extension educators conducted a total of 270 workshops from 2002 to 2004, reaching 3,062 participants across all regions of the state. 

After this period of substantial workshop activity, the number of workshops led by Cooperative Extension educators began to wane in 2005, and just two workshops were led  in 2007.  Two factors led to this decline, according to program management staff: difficulty recruiting participants for workshops and administrative issues. 

Recruitment challenges.  Workshop leaders found it difficult to identify and recruit couples for the OMI workshops, even though they had many local contacts and used a variety of recruitment sources.  They sought to recruit from within their existing clientele as well as from other agencies and sources, including TANF, alternative schools, GED classes, womens shelters, and county courthouses.  Many educators had relationships with local newspapers and other media, and placed notices in papers and radio.  Some circulated brochures throughout the county and advertised in local agency newsletters.  According to management at Cooperative Extension Services, these educators put a lot of leg-work into recruitment.  Their sources, however, did not easily produce enough participants for all of them to meet their workshop requirements.

Recruitment therefore became a source of contention for the Cooperative Extension Service.  The main problem, according to their management staff, was that the trained workshop leaders felt they were competing with one another for participants.  They felt that the approach to training as many workshop leaders as possible led to a large number of people, both within and outside of Cooperative Extension Services, appealing to the same audience.  Recruitment was particularly problematic in rural and small counties.  Some educators crossed county lines in search of participants, which may have increased competition between educators.

With these recruitment problems, many educators were unable to meet OMIs four-workshop requirement.  Furthermore, some had envisioned a team-teaching approach, which would allow them to rely on a co-leader for help with recruitment, but later learned that only one individual could count the workshop toward the required four, adding to the frustration.

Administrative and management issues.  Integrating a newly developing initiative whose goals, approaches, and procedures were in the very early stages of development into a well-established system with its own administrative and management structure presented challenges.  For example, Cooperative Extension educators were expected to complete work plans at least eight months ahead of time, and the OMIs evolving requirements for workshop activity created difficulties for them in developing class schedules.  Other issues involved misunderstandings about funding for an administrator, the use of equipment provided by the OMI for unrelated Cooperative Extension activities, and the definition of the population to be targeted.

Re-engaging the agency.  Despite these early challenges, recent meetings between OMI staff and Cooperative Extension administrators have revealed that most of the educators remain interested in providing OMI workshops.  The strict nature of the contract was apparently a barrier for the system, and the contract with the agency ended in 2007.  The OMI subsequently arranged meetings to update and potentially re-engage educators in providing workshops in the absence of a formal contract.  

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