Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (OMI): Using Research to Guide the Development of an Evolving Statewide Initiative. Assessment of Broad Social Change


There are numerous obstacles to rigorous evaluation of statewide impacts. Chief among these challenges is the lack of a counterfactual, that is, another state that is the same in every way except for presence of the OMI, whose social outcomes could be compared to those observed in Oklahoma. One alternative approach is to compare Oklahomas current divorce and nonmarital childbearing rates to measures taken prior to, or at the beginning of, the initiative. While this pre-post method would provide valuable information, it would not determine the extent to which observed changes occurred as a result of the OMI as opposed to other factors, such as changes in the economy. Certain evaluation techniques, however, may be developed and applied to reduce these concerns. The design of such an evaluation would require special attention and tailoring to the OMIs unique circumstances.

A second important issue to consider in any assessment of state-level outcomes is that broad social change in the culture of marriage is likely to take some time to emerge, regardless of the quality and depth of OMI program implementation. The pervasiveness of divorce and nonmarital childbearing suggests that changes in deep-seated values and attitudes are not likely to occur quickly or easily. It is possible that assessments of state-level outcomes of divorce and nonmarital childbearing may not capture change until the OMIs reach extends well beyond current implementation.

Assessing cultural change in attitudes and norms about marriage will similarly require careful thought about research design. It is possible to design and conduct a survey to assess change in knowledge and attitudes, such as whether more people think healthy marriage is something that can be learned, and OMI planners have begun to take steps in that direction. For the same reasons described above, such an approach would not permit observed changes to be confidently attributed to the influence of the OMI, but it may be possible to design a quasi-experimental approach to reduce threats to the validity of findings.

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