Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (OMI): A Process Evaluation. Replicability and Sustainability


A critical question for policymakers and practitioners outside of Oklahoma considering or already implementing a state- or community-wide marriage initiative involves the extent to which the OMI approach is replicable in other places and sustainable over time.  By replicability we mean how well the approach could be transferred to another state or community; by sustainability we mean the extent to which the approach could maintain its mission and vitality over the long run, whether in Oklahoma or elsewhere.  Some of the same features of implementation that seem related to short-term success are probably associated with both its replicability and its sustainability. 

Persistence, flexibility, and creativity of initiative managers.  Rolling out marriage education services statewide is no easy task, particularly when the services are primarily to be offered by volunteers.  Oklahomas experience shows that developing a voluntary workforce at the public and private levels requires patience, determination, and the flexibility to come up with creative solutions to obstacles.  Developing a keen eye for opportunities and moving quickly to take advantage of them are important; contracting out management of the initiative to a private firm that could respond more nimbly than most public agencies probably fostered these capacities.  A focus on learning through experience was generally a higher priority than meeting time-fixed performance measures.  

Leadership and fiscal support.  The OMI was ultimately able to garner substantial and ongoing funding to carry out its activities.  Although volunteers at the community level and staff at organizations provide the bulk of the marriage education workshops, funding is nevertheless necessary to sponsor training and supplies for workshop leaders, arrange and conduct large community-wide events, provide technical assistance and support for workshop leaders, maintain an electronic management information system and ensure its ongoing use by volunteer leaders, conduct research activities to inform the design, development, and expansion of OMI activities, and recruit and monitor the progress of public agencies, among other tasks.  The OMI was fortunate to have begun at a moment in time when TANF surplus funds were readily available and could provide a strong push forward.

Maintaining continuity across political administrations. If a marriage initiative is seen as closely connected to a particular political administration, it may not survive when the administration changes hands and priorities shift.  In Oklahoma, the private firm managing the initiative was successful in retaining support for the OMI when the Republican administration that initiated it transferred power upon inauguration of a Democratic governor.  A key element in this success was that the new governor re-appointed the chief government supporter of the OMI (and the director of the DHS) to his post as Secretary of Health and Human Services.  Being inclusive of a diversity of perspectives throughout most of its development was probably also a contributing factor in the OMIs achievement of continued support.

Learning from trial and error.  The complexity involved in designing and operating a statewide marriage initiative stems in large part from the diversity of populations to be served.  Creating a standard intervention that can still respond to the needs of many different groups can be a careful balancing act.  The OMI leadership learned through trial and error that the implementation and shape of relationship skills education must be tailored to the specific agency, sector, or population group being served.  They also found that the implementation challenges that arise in each of these are often very different from one another, so as a result the learning process must occur on multiple fronts simultaneously.  Because the challenges that arise in implementing marriage initiatives in other states and communities may differ somewhat from those encountered by the OMI, new initiatives are likely to benefit from establishing an effective learning process from the beginning.

Cultural context.  Oklahoma is part of the so-called Bible Belt, where indicators of religiosity are generally higher than in other states or communities (Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 2007).  It is possible that the states relatively religious culture has contributed to greater receptiveness to messages about the value of marriage and the importance of taking action to protect and support the institution.

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