Process by which new ideas are adopted or rejected.
We are creatures of habit.
Human beings do not like change.
A hypothesis outlining how new technological and other advancements spread throughout
societies and cultures, from introduction to wider-adoption. The diffusion of innovations
theory seeks to explain how and why new ideas and practices are adopted, with timelines
potentially spread out over long periods.
The way in which innovations are communicated to different parts of society and the
subjective opinions associated with the innovations are important factors in how quickly
diffusion - or spreading - occurs.
Factors that affect the rate of innovation diffusion include the mix of rural to urban
population within a society, the society's level of education and the extent of industrialization
Different societies are likely to have different adoption rates (the rate at which members of a
society accept a new innovation) for different types of innovation. For example, a society may
have adopted the internet faster than it adopted the automobile due to cost, accessibility and
familiarity with technological change.
Diffusion of Innovation (DOI) Theory, developed by E.M. Rogers in 1962, is
one of the oldest social science theories.
It originated in communication to explain how, over time, an idea or product
gains momentum and diffuses (or spreads) through a specific population or
The end result of this diffusion is that people, as part of a social system,
adopt a new idea, behavior, or product.
Adoption means that a person does something differently than what they
had previously (i.e., purchase or use a new product, acquire and perform a
new behavior, etc.).
The key to adoption is that the person must perceive the idea, behavior, or
product as new or innovative. It is through this that diffusion is possible.
Adoption of a new idea, behavior, or product (i.e., "innovation") does not
happen simultaneously in a social system; rather it is a process whereby some
people are more apt to adopt the innovation than others.
Researchers have found that people who adopt an innovation early have
different characteristics than people who adopt an innovation later.
When promoting an innovation to a target population, it is important to
understand the characteristics of the target population that will help or hinder
adoption of the innovation.
The Mechanism of Diffusion
Diffusion is the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain
channels over time among the members of a social system (5). Given that decisions are not
authoritative or collective, each member of the social system faces his/her own innovation-
decision that follows a 5-step process :
1. Knowledge – Person becomes aware of an innovation and has some idea of how it
2. Persuasion – Person forms a favorable or unfavorable attitude toward the innovation.
3. Decision – Person engages in activities that lead to a choice to adopt or reject the
4. Implementation – Person puts an innovation into use.
5. Confirmation – Person evaluates the results of an innovation-decision already made.
Five Established Adopter Categories
2. Early adopters
3. Early majority
5. No adopters (laggards)
1. Innovators : These are people who want to be the first to try the
innovation. They are venturesome and interested in new ideas. These
people are very willing to take risks, and are often the first to develop new
ideas. Very little, if anything, needs to be done to appeal to this population.
2. Early Adopters : These are people who represent opinion leaders. They
enjoy leadership roles, and embrace change opportunities. They are already
aware of the need to change and so are very comfortable adopting new
ideas. Strategies to appeal to this population include how-to manuals and
information sheets on implementation. They do not need information to
convince them to change.
3. Early Majority : These people are rarely leaders, but they do adopt new
ideas before the average person. That said, they typically need to see
evidence that the innovation works before they are willing to adopt it.
Strategies to appeal to this population include success stories and evidence
of the innovation's effectiveness.
4. Late Majority : These people are skeptical of change, and will only adopt
an innovation after it has been tried by the majority. Strategies to appeal to
this population include information on how many other people have tried
the innovation and have adopted it successfully.
5. Laggards : These people are bound by tradition and very conservative.
They are very skeptical of change and are the hardest group to bring on
board. Strategies to appeal to this population include statistics, fear
appeals, and pressure from people in the other adopter groups.
Five Main Factors That Influence Adoption
Of An Innovation
1. Relative Advantage - The degree to which an innovation is seen as better than the idea,
program, or product it replaces.
2. Compatibility - How consistent the innovation is with the values, experiences, and needs
of the potential adopters.
3. Complexity - How difficult the innovation is to understand and/or use.
4. Triability - The extent to which the innovation can be tested or experimented with before
a commitment to adopt is made.
5. Observability - The extent to which the innovation provides tangible results.
Roles In The Innovation
1) Opinion Leaders Who have relatively frequent informal influence over
the behavior of others.
2) Change Agents Who positively influence innovation decisions, by
mediating between the change agency and the relevant social system.
3) Change Aides Who complement the change agent, by having more
intensive contact with clients, and who have less competence credibility but
more safety or trustworthiness credibility.
Affecting the Diffusion of an
Now that we know the mechanisms of diffusion, we have a basis for
considering what efforts are most successful in encouraging the spread of an
It used to be assumed that the mass media had direct, immediate, and
powerful effects on the mass audience.
But diffusion theory argues that, since opinion leaders directly affect the
tipping of an innovation, a powerful way for change agents to affect the
diffusion of an innovation is to affect opinion leader attitudes.
I will examine the potency of the mass media and persuasion of opinion
leaders in encouraging the diffusion of an innovation.
The mass media’s most powerful effect on diffusion is that it
spreads knowledge of innovations to a large audience rapidly. It
can even lead to changes in weakly held attitudes.
But strong interpersonal ties are usually more effective in the
formation and change of strongly held attitudes. Research has
shown that firm attitudes are developed through communication
exchanges about the innovation with peers and opinion leaders.
These channels are more trusted and have greater effectiveness in
dealing with resistance or apathy on the part of the communicate.
Persuading Opinion Leaders
Persuading opinion leaders is the easiest way to foment positive attitudes
toward an innovation.
Rogers explains that the types of opinion leaders that change agents should
target depend on the nature of the social system. Social systems can be
characterized as heterophilous or homophilous.
On one hand, heterophilous social systems tend to encourage change from
In them, there is more interaction between people from different
backgrounds, indicating a greater interest in being exposed to new ideas.
These systems have opinion leadership that is more innovative because these
systems are desirous of innovation.
On the other hand, homophilous social systems tend toward system norms.
Most interaction within them is between people from similar backgrounds.
People and ideas that differ from the norm are seen as strange and
These systems have opinion leadership that is not very innovative because
these systems are averse to innovation.
1. Heterophilous systems: change agents can concentrate on targeting the most elite and
innovative opinion leaders and the innovation will trickle-down to non-elites. If an elite
opinion leader is convinced to adopt an innovation, the rest will exhibit excitement and
readiness to learn and adopt it. The domino effect will commence with enthusiasm rather
2. Homophilous systems: however, encouraging the diffusion of an innovation is a far
more difficult business. Change agents must target a wider group of opinion leaders,
including some of the less elite, because innovations are less likely to trickle-down.
Opinion leaders who adopt innovations in homophilous systems are more likely to be
regarded as suspicious and/or dismissed from their opinion leadership. Often, opinion
leaders in homophilous systems avoid adopting innovations in hopes of protecting their
opinion leadership. Generally, in homophilous systems, opinion leaders do not control
attitudes as much as pre-existing norms do. Change agents must, if possible, communicate
to opinion leaders a convincing argument in favor of the innovation that accentuates the
compatibility of the innovation with system norms. The opinion leaders will then be able
to use this argument, which will hopefully resonate with the masses, to support their own
Change Agent Functions
1. To develop a need for change on the part of the client;
2. To establish an information-exchange relationship;
3. To diagnose the client problems;
4. To create intent to change in the client;
5. To translate this intent into action;
6. To stabilize adoption and prevent discontinuance; and
7. To shift the client from reliance on the change agent to self-reliance.
Limitations of Diffusion of Innovation
1. Much of the evidence for this theory, including the adopter categories, did not originate in
public health and it was not developed to explicitly apply to adoption of new behaviors or
2. It does not foster a participatory approach to adoption of a public health program.
3. It works better with adoption of behaviors rather than cessation or prevention of
4. It doesn't take into account an individual's resources or social support to adopt the new
behavior (or innovation).
This theory has been used successfully in many fields including
communication, agriculture, public health, criminal justice, social work, and
In public health, Diffusion of Innovation Theory is used to accelerate the
adoption of important public health programs that typically aim to change the
behavior of a social system.
For example, an intervention to address a public health problem is
developed, and the intervention is promoted to people in a social system with
the goal of adoption (based on Diffusion of Innovation Theory).
The most successful adoption of a public health program results from
understanding the target population and the factors influencing their rate of