Adoption and Diffusion of Innovations

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Carey Campbell
University of Illinois

You or the group you work with have a good idea and want to share it or use it for change. An innovation can be an idea, a program, a computer, a law, or any tool to accommodate human needs. To diffuse it, it must be meaningful in particular ways to particular people at particular times. It may require re-invention to be adapted to different situations.


Any social context: a family, a work group, an organization, a neighborhood, a town.


The process and some things to be aware of concerning the process. The text concerning the process comes directly from a web-page put together by E.M. Rogers concerning a Native American Library project.

An innovation, simply put, is “an idea perceived as new by the individual.” Four main elements in the diffusion of new ideas are (1) the innovation, (2) communication channels, (3) time, and (4) the social system.

1. The innovation. The innovation, to spread and be adopted should show (1) relative advantage, (2) compatibility, (3) complexity, (4) trialability, and (5) observability to those people within the social system.

2. Communication. Communication is the process by which participants create and share information with one another in order to reach a mutual understanding. A communication channel is the means by which messages get from one individual to another.

3. Time. The time dimension is involved in diffusion in three ways. First, time is involved in the innovation-decision process. The innovation-decision process is the mental process through which an individual (or other decision-making unit) passes from first knowledge of an innovation to forming an attitude toward the innovation, to a decision to adopt or reject, to implementation of the new idea, and to confirmation of this decision. An individual seeks information at various stages in the innovation-decision process in order to decrease uncertainty about an innovation's expected consequences. The second way in which time is involved in diffusion is in the innovativeness of an individual or other unit of adoption. Innovativeness is the degree to which an individual or other unit of adoption is relatively earlier in adopting new ideas than other members of a social system. There are five adopter categories, or classifications of the members of a social system on the basis on their innovativeness: (1) innovators, (2) early adopters, (3) early majority, (4) late majority, and (5) laggards.

4. The social system. The fourth main element in the diffusion of new ideas is the social system. A social system is defined as a set of interrelated units that are engaged in joint problem-solving to accomplish a common goal. The members or units of a social system may be individuals, informal groups, organizations, and/or subsystems. The social system constitutes a boundary within which an innovation diffuses. How the system's social structure affects diffusion has been studied. A second area of research involved how norms affect diffusion. Norms are the established behavior patterns for the members of a social system. A third area of research has had to do with opinion leadership, the degree to which an individual is able to influence informally other individuals' attitudes or overt behavior in a desired way with relative frequency. A change agent is an individual who attempts to influence clients' innovation-decisions in a direction that is deemed desirable by a change agency.

Problems with this method to be aware of are 1. the innovation bias, 2. homogeneity.

The innovation bias occurs when people are mesmerized with the innovation itself and forget the social, economic, and environmental factors associated with bringing a new idea into a community.

The diffusion of innovations typically occurs within homogenuous environments. People like what is familiar to them and often innovations might, ironically, make similarities more concrete rather than enhance diversity.


Include a variety of stakeholders early on in the innovation process. Although innovations may spread quickly, they may not be sustainable in the long run. Incorporating diverse views both into the process of innovation and also into the process of diffusion of the innovation yields higher quality change.

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