Oklahoma Marriage Initiative: An Overview of the Longest-Running Statewide Marriage Initiative in the U.S.: Research Brief. Leadership, Vision, and Commitment in Support of a Clear Goal


High-level leadership, a bold public goal, designated funding, and an institutional home base were essential factors in the founding of the OMI. Nearly eight years ago, Oklahomas then-Cabinet Secretary for Health and Human Services, Jerry Regier, encouraged then-Governor Frank Keating to take action to strengthen Oklahomas families, in response to emerging research and the increased emphasis on two-parent families in the 1996 federal welfare reform legislation. Further influenced by an Oklahoma-specific economic report suggesting a link between the states economy and its family structure, Governor Keating gave public recognition to the issue, brought together leaders in Oklahoma society to discuss and pledge support, encouraged a public-private collaborative approach, and boldly announced a goal of reducing the divorce rate by one-third by the year 2010. Oklahomas Department of Human Services (DHS) committed $10 million to the effort from surplus funds in its federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block grant and contracted with Public Strategies, Inc. (PSI  a private, for-profit firm) to develop and manage the initiative. After the first couple of foundational years, Howard Hendrick succeeded Regier as Cabinet Secretary and used his agency to continue leadership and support for the initiative, guiding its evolution and full-scale implementation.

Since Oklahoma was a pioneer in this area, DHS and PSI began the OMI with little guidance from others experiences, and so they weighed opportunities, options, and progress as they went. PSI began with no background in marriage programming and there were no results from other large marriage initiatives to suggest fruitful directions or pitfalls to be avoided. Under general supervision from DHS, PSI tried out various approaches to advance overall initiative goals, using an entrepreneurial spirit, creativity, and learning from successes and challenges along the way. The OMI has grown to be a true initiative rather than a narrowly defined program; it is a major public-private collaboration with component parts that are continually being developed, refined, and fine-tuned.

Although the OMI is constantly evolving, Figure 1 depicts the context, development, and logic of the initiative as it stands today. The remainder of this brief describes the main elements in this figure: the OMIs philosophy of change, its implementation strategy for facilitating change, its process for building on research, and how it has gone about building capacity as well as building demand for marriage education services throughout the state.

Figure 1.
Current Implementation of the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative

Figure 1. Current Implementation of the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative.

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