Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (OMI): Using Research to Guide the Development of an Evolving Statewide Initiative. The OMIs Research Advisory Group: A Different Kind of Expert Panel


The idea of a panel of experts guiding or providing advice for large-scale policy change efforts is not a new one. The OMI expert panel, however, took a somewhat different approach. Because the OMI is an ongoing initiative with ambitious goals, OMI planners felt the greatest need was for guidance that would help it grow, particularly during the first several years. Therefore, the RAG focused primarily on issues related to development, with evaluation of outcomes as a secondary and more long-term goal. Another distinction that has set the RAG apart from other similar panels is the ongoing and active involvement of a highly placed state-level decision maker. In light of the initiatives goal of broad social change, the OMIs management and RAG members have viewed this high-level involvement as especially useful.

Particularly during the early years of the initiative, the RAG focused on contributing to development rather than evaluation.  The OMI was a unique concept, so the RAG focused on how prior related research could inform development of the initiative. OMI leaders believe that this emphasis on development, rather than evaluation of outcomes, contributed to the OMIs forward momentum during its first five years. OMI leadership has used the research advisory group to help develop implementation strategies and to help it think through and address early challenges as they emerged. The RAG also has been engaged in assessing the potential for expansion into new areas, such as programs targeted to TANF or Medicaid recipients.

The active involvement of a key policymaker has promoted research-informed decisions about new directions for the initiative.  Since its inception and continuing today, the annual RAG meetings have been attended by the states Secretary and Director of the Department of Human Services (DHS)-the agency that sponsors the OMI. Secretary Howard Hendrick brings many years of experience and special knowledge of Oklahomas families as well as the political and policy context. As the initiatives key decision maker, he has actively proposed and responded to new ideas, engaging in lively discussions with RAG members. This exchange of ideas and information among decision makers, implementers, and researchers has had the effect of bringing research to bear on new directions of interest to the state, and has promoted the initiatives development.

The RAG has served as a sounding board for new ideas, supplied new information, and provided credibility to the initiatives efforts.  During its annual meetings, RAG members have provided input on research that may be relevant to OMI goals and implementation design. The members also have responded to presentations by Public Strategies, Inc. (PSI), the firm that manages the OMIs operations, on the current state of progress and new directions that may be proposed by OMI leadership. RAG members have proposed new ideas and areas in which the initiative might expand or improve. Beyond its substantive contributions, OMI leaders believe the RAGs ongoing involvement has given credibility to the initiatives efforts. In their view, the active participation of nationally known experts and scholars has demonstrated the initiatives commitment to using the latest research to continuously refine the initiative.

Oklahoma Marriage Initiative: Research Advisory Group
RAG Member Affiliation
Paul Amato Professor of Sociology, Demography and Family Studies, College of Liberal Arts, Pennsylvania State University
Robin Dion Senior Research Psychologist, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.
Kathryn Edin Professor of Public Policy and Management, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Dave Fournier Professor of Marriage and Family Therapy and Family Sciences, Oklahoma State University
Norval Glenn Ashbel Smith Professor of Sociology, Stiles Professor of American Studies, The University of Texas at Austin
Ron Haskins Senior Fellow of Economic Studies, Co-Director of the Welfare Reform and Beyond Initiative, Brookings Institution
Howard Hendrick Cabinet Secretary for Human Services and Director of Oklahoma Department of Human Services
Christine Johnson (Co-chair) Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies, College of Human Environmental Sciences, Associate Professor, Department of Human Development and Family Science, Oklahoma State University
Pamela Jordan Associate Professor of Family and Child Nursing, University of Washington
Howard Markman Professor of Sociology, Co-Director of Center for Marital and Family Studies, University of Denver
Mary Myrick President, Public Strategies, Inc., Project Manager, Oklahoma Marriage Initiative
Steve Nock Professor of Sociology, Director of Marriage Matters, Co-Founder of Center for Children, Families, and the Law, University of Virginia. (Dr. Nock passed away in early 2008.)
Theodora Ooms (Senior Consultant) Independent Consultant, formerly at Center for Law and Social Policy
Scott Stanley (Co-chair) Co-Director of Center for Marital and Family Studies, University of Denver

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