The diffusion model is rooted in the modernization paradigm, characterized by the intent to use communication media and methods to persuade people to change specific behaviors. Diffusion approaches believe progress is achieved by inducing change in individuals' attitudes and behaviors. This approaches linked to the participatory model, instead, acknowledge that there can be different constructions of the same reality. No one single party has the ultimate truth; rather, there are a number of realities that often need to be reconciled through communication. This theoretical framework grows out of the constructivist perspective and carries a number of implications.
Rogers (Rogers, 2005, p. 5) defines diffusion as "the process in which an innovation is communicated though certain channels over time among the members of a social system." There are four key elements that make up this definition. These interacting factors include ‘innovation’, ‘communication’, ‘time’ and ‘social system’.
Diffusion of Innovation includes both spontaneous spread of new ideas and a planned method of propagating a new idea (Rogers, 2005, p. 6).
Four Elements of Diffusion of Innovation
Rogers (2005, p. 12) defines Innovation as "an idea, practice or object that has perceived as new by an individual or other unit of adoption." First time knowledge about a well-established practice can be perceived as ‘new,’ and an innovation, for that particular group of individuals. As Rogers said, "newness can be expressed in terms of knowledge, persuasion or a decision to adopt." It is incorrect to assume that all innovations are beneficial and that all innovations are equally adopted. The main characteristics of an innovation that significantly affect its adoption (or rejection) are (1) relative advantage (2) compatibility (3) complexity (4) trialability (5) observability. These factors will be discussed later in the chapter.
Communication plays a significant role in the spread of ideas and exchange of information. As defined by Rogers (2005, p. 18), communication is the "process by which participants create and share information with one another to reach a mutual understanding." By means of a communication channel, messages are transmitted from one individual to another. The two most powerful communication channels are the mass media and interpersonal communication. The former helps in creating awareness and spreading knowledge about an innovation, whereas, the latter is effective in creating an opinion and possible adoption or rejection of the innovation. Most effective communication takes place between individuals who have similar backgrounds such as education, socio-economic status, so forth. Such a communication is called homophilic. But, often, in diffusion of innovation, heterophilic communication occurs between an individual who has better knowledge and understanding of the innovation to an individual with lesser awareness.
Time is an important factor in studying diffusion research. Time is involved in various phases of the diffusion process, namely (1) the innovation decision process; (2 )the individual innovativeness, i.e., the time taken for an individual to accept/reject an innovation as compared to others; and (3) the rate of adoption of the innovation. These intermediate time bound steps are explained later in the chapter.
A social system has a definite structure, defined as the patterned arrangements of the units in a system (Rogers, 2005, p. 25) and a set of norms. Hence, it is clear diffusion and adoption of innovation are greatly affected by the social system and the characteristics of the individual units of that system.
Innovation and Rate of Adoption
When any new idea is brought to our attention, the foremost tendency as humans is to put it under the microscope and dissect it. This helps us carefully understand the related features, advantages and disadvantages. It helps us make a mental picture and comprehend the innovation better. This is where the importance of understanding the attributes of an innovation comes to picture, which then affects its rate of adoption.
Rogers (2005) defined the rate of adoption as “the relative speed with which an innovation is adopted by members of a social system”. For instance, personal and optional innovations usually are adopted faster than the innovations involving an organizational or collective innovation-decision. Moreover, the cumulative function of the rate of adoption of an innovation is an S-Shaped curve. The S-shaped curve rises very slowly in the beginning, which implies only a few adopters. It gradually increases and then shoots up to a maximum when more than half of the adopters have adopted. It continues to rise gradually, but slowly, signifying the group of people left to adopt the innovation.
These attributes of innovation are relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability,and observability (Rogers, 2005, p. 16).
Rogers (2005, p. 219) defines relative advantage as "the degree to which an innovation is perceived as being better than the idea it supersedes." For early adopters, innovators, and early majority social status is a highly motivating factor. The greater the relative advantages of an innovation, the greater its rate of adoption. For example, to integrate technology into education, teachers should first see its usefulness and that it betters their instruction for them to use technology (Finley, 2003). Once the adopter sees the relative advantages of an innovation, the adopter generally perceives how compatible the innovation is to their current situation. This brings us to the next attribute.
Compatibility is defined as "the degree to which an innovation is perceived to be consistent with the existing value system, past experiences, and needs of potential adopters." The more compatible an innovation is, the greater the rate of adoption.
Some innovations are easy to understand and use while others are more difficult to comprehend. In general, the more complex an innovation, the lower the chance of it being adopted. Complexity is defined as the "degree to which an innovation is perceived as relatively difficult to understand and use."
Trialability is the "degree to which an innovation can be experimented on with a limited basis." When an innovation can be tried, it increases its chances of adoption. An innovation is changed according to the user feedback during the trial phase. Similarly, most of the pharmaceutical drugs have to cross a mandatory trial phase before their actual market launch. In general, adopters wish to benefit from the functional effects of an innovation, but avoid any dysfunctional effects. However, Trialability may reduce the rate of adoption.
The last characteristic of an innovation is observability, defined as "the degree to which the results of an innovation are visible to others." This is positively related to the rate of adoption. When we see our peers using a new technological gizmo, we are more likely to buy and try it out on our own. This shows that ideas easily observed and communicated are more likely to be adopted.
This is a process that happens over time where all pros and cons of an innovation are examined and a decision is gradually reached upon either accepting or rejecting the innovation. It consists of 5 stages: knowledge, persuasion, decision, implementation, and confirmation.
This is the stage when the users or possible adopters first hear about the existence of the innovation, and then gain knowledge and understanding about its various functions. There are three types of knowledge associated with these questions:
(a) Awareness-Knowledge: When a possible adopter seeks information regarding what the innovation is all about, has inquisitiveness that falls under the first category of knowledge. This may also motivate other adopters to seek similar information about the innovation and also lead them to ask further questions.
(b) How-to-Knowledge: This type of knowledge enlightens the users about how to correctly use an innovation. If the user has proper and correct how-to knowledge before the trial and adoption of the innovation, it increases the likelihood of its adoption.
(c) Principle-Knowledge: Lack of principle knowledge may lead to misuse of an innovation and subsequent discontinuance of the same. By all this know-how knowledge, individuals are in a better position to judge the effectiveness of any innovation. But being equipped with all this knowledge does not guarantee the adoption of the innovation as it also depends on the attitude of the individual towards it.
In the persuasion stage, an individual forms a favorable or an unfavorable attitude towards an innovation, but this attitude does not necessarily lead to adoption or rejection of the innovation. Rogers states that the former is more cognitive or knowing, whereas the latter is more affective or feeling. It is the integral step where the user starts forming a perception about the innovation and hence, more intricately and psychologically involved. The user continues to seek information about the innovation.
In the decision stage, the individual puts his knowledge and opinion into practice and decides whether to adopt or reject an innovation. Adoption is the decision "to make full use of the innovation as the best course of action available" and rejection implies not to adopt an innovation.
Implementation occurs when the innovation is put into practice. A person gathers all necessary information regarding the innovation and comes to a decision of adopting (or rejecting) it. Finally, in this stage it is put into practice. The role of change agents is significant here as technical advisors as they answer various questions regarding the innovation. Implementation is a more challenging process when an organization is involved as the users are different sets of people, and often, different than the deciders.