Pathways-to-Outcomes Snapshots: Tools for Building Evidence for Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education Programs

Publication Date: November 6, 2020
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These snapshots are intended for practitioners and researchers involved in designing, improving, or evaluating HMRE programs. They present three HMRE Pathways-to-Outcomes models that visually represent hypothesized links between program activities and intended outcomes. Each model reflects an aspect of program design and implementation: (1) curriculum and delivery, (2) maximizing participation, and (3) addressing couple and individual characteristics.

Accompanying each model is a recommendation table that provides research questions that could be addressed in future evaluations to build the evidence base. These questions are informed by the program activities included in the pathways-to-outcomes models. Answering these questions may help determine how best to implement the program activities and whether they can be considered effective or evidence-based. The purpose of the models and recommendations is to advance the field of HMRE programming by suggesting future directions for research.


The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) has funded multiple rigorous evaluations of Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education (HMRE) programs. These evaluations have demonstrated positive impacts for HMRE program participants and provided in-depth documentation of the implementation of HMRE programs. Despite offering important contributions to the body of knowledge on HMRE programs and their impacts, these evaluations were not designed to identify specific program activities that contributed to impacts. To help address this gap, OFA directed Mathematica to create a set of HMRE Pathways-to-Outcomes models to explore hypothesized links between program activities and intended outcomes for adult couples.

Key Findings and Highlights

Hypotheses for each HMRE Pathways-to-Outcomes model, and examples of associated evidence-informed strategies for HMRE programming are as follows:

  1. Couple functioning outcomes may improve through programs’ selection and implementation of HMRE curricula.
    • Select curricula with evidence for improving outcomes related to couple functioning for the target population.
    • Be intentional in evaluating the background, demographic characteristics, and professional experiences of the facilitators in relation to the population being served.
    • Provide facilitators with training on the curriculum’s content and skills training to facilitate sessions and to help them relate to and address participants’ needs.
  2. Increased participation in HMRE curriculum workshops may improve couple functioning outcomes.
    • Provide individualized case management services that include assessments of needs and barriers related to participation.
    • Offer a variety of workshop schedules and give participants regular reminders.
    • Foster the development of relationships between participants and program staff and among participants.
  3. HMRE programs that account for or address potential couple-level and individual factors such as relationship distress, commitment, race/ethnicity and/or economic disadvantage may be more likely to improve couple functioning outcomes.
    • Tailor recruitment methods for the target population.
    • Select a curriculum designed or adapted for the target population.


The Mathematica team generated the models described in the brief from HMRE federal evaluation reports, peer-reviewed literature, and input from HMRE researchers and practitioners. To develop the recommendations table that accompanies each model, we transformed key activities from the models into a condensed list of specific strategies for grantees to consider adopting. For each strategy, we developed multiple targeted research questions that could be addressed in future evaluations.


Friend, Daniel, Amy Overcash, Pamela Holcomb, and Heather Zaveri (2020). Pathways-To-Outcomes Snapshots: Tools for Building Evidence for Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education (HMRE) Programs. OPRE Brief # 2020-116. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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