(Dow Jones) Market turmoil and a long recession have prompted more single-family offices to outsource management of some or all of their assets. At the same time, the wealthy have grown more involved in investment decisions.

At first glance that might seem contradictory, but the explanation is fairly simple: Some ultrawealthy families "have concluded that they lack sufficient expertise in-house to evaluate investment strategies and vehicles," says Robert Casey, head of research at the Family Wealth Alliance, a Wheaton, Ill.-based firm that helps families find wealth managers.

According to a new survey of 35 family offices by his company, use of an outside chief investment officer ticked up to four in 10 in late 2009, compared with three in ten a year earlier. The family offices in the survey supervise an average $605 million.

Family offices are noncommercial investment- and wealth-management outfits that typically serve the descendents and charities of a single individual. Multifamily offices are similar--and sometimes evolve from single-family offices-but they usually are commercial endeavors and cater to more than one family.

Charlotte Beyer of the Institute for Private Investors says a willingness to engage external advisers doesn't mean high-wealth families are turning from the fray. In fact, they are becoming more involved even as they develop a growing appreciation of the complexities of investment management.

"It's not that they want to do drive the car," says Beyer, who founded the IPI in 1991 as a networking and educational resource of ultrahigh-net-worth families. "Rather, it's that they want to know how to read the dashboard."

The trend is evident among private clients of all stripes.

Lexington Wealth Management is a registered investment advisor with offices in New York and suburban Boston. Though its affluent clients aren't, by and large, in the family-office realm, they have also taken more interest in the mechanics of investment management since the dark days of late 2008 and early 2009.

Lexington's chief executive, Michael Tucci, seizes on another automobile analogy to explain. "If they were sitting in the backseat before, they're up front now helping us navigate," he says. "The abdicators have become delegators."

Chat Reynders is seeing a similar increase in client involvement. And the new activism that emerged from the market downturn has doubled the assets under management at his firm-Boston-based "socially aware" investment boutique Reynders McVeigh Capital Management-to around $500 million.