Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (OMI): Putting Marriage on the Agenda: How Oklahoma Laid the Foundation for Its Marriage Initiative. How is the OMI Managed?

07/29/2008

Whether implementing broad initiatives or individual programs to support healthy marriage, sponsors must develop an appropriate home base and an implementation approach suited to their goals and environments. In Oklahoma, DHS has taken a lead role in planning and implementing the initiative, but it has done so through a partnership with a private sector firm that operates or oversees most OMI activities. This partnership provides credibility as well as the flexibility to adapt and grow the OMI in response to lessons learned.

The OMI is Administered Through a Public-Private Partnership.  Management of the OMI evolved into a public-private partnership that began early in the initiative. When it appeared that attendance at the 1999 Conference on Marriage might be lower than hoped, and that some sectors might be underrepresented, planners hired Public Strategies, Inc. (PSI), a public relations firm in Oklahoma City, to identify, invite, and encourage leaders across sectors to participate. The firms founder and owner, Mary Myrick, who had strong connections with many state and local leaders in Oklahoma, found the idea of strengthening families through attention to marriage both interesting and compelling. After the conference, supported by a small planning contract from DHS, PSI continued to work with OMI supporters to approach faith, business, media, and other sectors to develop plans for how they would participate in the OMI or support its goals. Even after the planning contract ended in October 1999, Myrick and others at her firm continued to be involved on a voluntary, informal basis. They were key partners in developing initial support, seeking funds, and focusing on marriage education. In 2000, through a competitive bid process, Oklahomas DHS awarded PSI a contract to implement and manage the OMI, which continues today.

Management by a Private Firm with Government Oversight Provided Flexibility in the Context of an Evolving Initiative.  The contract between PSI and DHS reflected the exploratory and evolving nature of the OMI. It held PSI accountable for achieving overall OMI goals, and identified deliverables and outcomes. The contract did not, however, prescribe what the elements of the OMI would be, but instead required PSI to submit proposals to DHS for any new OMI activities  which DHS encouraged them to explore and propose. As other briefs on the OMI will explain, this flexibility has allowed the OMI and its service delivery infrastructure to change and expand significantly as new opportunities have arisen and lessons have been learned.

The partnership between DHS and PSI  as well as its timing  was perceived to offer important benefits to the OMI. As a private entity, PSI had more flexibility to develop staffing that suited the OMIs needs, and to make changes as the OMI rapidly evolved. Outsourcing lessened the perception that the OMI was a government program and made some groups  such as the faith sector  that otherwise might have been skeptical of partnering directly with government more willing to become involved. Since a marriage initiative was a new effort, and since the OMI was still in its early stages, outsourcing did not take jobs or staff away from DHS or threaten existing constituencies in the department or other public agencies. On the other hand, retaining DHS as a lead agency and involving them closely in the administration of the OMI lent credibility to PSIs efforts within state government, and helped ensure their access to major social service programs and providers as possible venues for marriage education activities or as referral sources for other providers.

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