Good ideas do not sell themselves.

Everett Rogers, The Diffusion of Innovations, Fifth Edition

Introduction

Everett Rogers' Diffusion of Innovations is the definitive source for learning strategies aimed at gaining adoption of complex and controversial technologies. The diffusion of innovations approach relies upon well-established theories in sociology, psychology, and mass communications to develop a concise and easily understood approach to consumer acceptance of new technologies. Rogers reminds us that the dissemination of technology, given its inevitable unanticipated, unintended, and undesirable consequences for some, and sometimes for all, entails a strong commitment to ethical standards of professional practice.

The mistake made most often in attempts at technology transfer is to assume that transmission of the scientific facts about the technology will be sufficient to gain adoption of it. Because science is known to fail, because factors other than technical risk assessments affect decisions to adopt, because for complex and controversial technologies the public demands attention to their values and assurances of competence to give their trust to the developers and managers of these technologies, technology transfer strategies must find ways to address value-based concerns, instill trust in technical risk assessments, and ease the transition to using the new technology.

As we learned in the two preceding sections, critical elements of technology transfer include implementing good risk communication skills and working with the media to facilitate reasonable presentation of arguments in favor of and opposition to the new technology. To effectively gain adoption (or rejection; this is the last time I will say both), however, one must also:
  • Influence the social comparison process that provides the required connection between persuasive arguments and choice shift (i.e., understand the social system),
  • Understand the innovation-decision process (i.e., the time sequence of adoption decisions),
  • Assist in easing the transition to the new technology, which includes changing attitudes, behaviors, and infrastructure support for the new technology (i.e., reduce transaction costs), and
  • Mitigate negative consequences associated with new technology adoption.
The case illustration of Los Molinos (pages 1-5), where the change agent (Nelida) was able to achieve only 5% adoption of water boiling in her Peruvian village demonstrates the importance of customs, interpersonal networks, opinion leaders, and change-agent characteristics on adoption decisions. In Diffusion of Innovations, Rogers teaches us that knowledge acquisition, risk evaluation, value acceptance, social/economic/political constraints, adaptation to specific situations, time, money, and the expertise of change agents all influence the adoption of an innovation.

Suggestions for reading the Rogers textbook for Sociology 415:

The presentation of materials on the next two web pages follows a different order from that presented in the Rogers textbook. The suggested ordering for reading the textbook is:

Diffusion of Innovations, Part I on WebCT:
  1. Chapter 1: Elements of Diffusion.
  2. Chapter 6: Attributes of Innovations.
  3. Chapter 8: Diffusion Networks.
  4. Chapter 9: The Change Agent.
  5. Chapter 5: The Innovation-Decision Process.
  6. Chapter 7: Innovativeness and Adopter Categories.
Diffusion of Innovations, Part II on WebCT:
  1. Chapter 11: Consequences of Innovations.
  2. Chapter 3: Contributions and Criticisms of Diffusion Research.

Diffusion of Innovations: Part I

This section describes the diffusion of innovations model, explains its importance for understanding public responses to complex and controversial technologies, and provides an approach to gaining adoption if one chooses to do so.


Compass

    Key Questions

      How is technology adoption influenced by social factors?
      How can the change agent influence the adoption of new technologies?

    Examples

      How do characteristics of the sampler technologies affect their rate of adoption?

      Who are the opinion leaders for each of the sampler technologies?

      What strategies might be effective at gaining adoption/rejection of the sampler technologies?

      Who likely are the opinion leaders for each of the sampler technologies?


Elements of Diffusion (Chapter 1)

Diffusion is a process whereby an (1) innovation is (2) communicated through certain channels (3) over time (4) within social systems. The approaches to risk communication reviewed thus far in Sociology 415 emphasize the importance of understanding characteristics of complex innovations and developing effective risk communication techniques for instilling trust and reducing outrage. The diffusion of innovations approach posits further that risk communication strategies differ over time and within different social systems.

An innovation is an idea, practice, or object that is perceived as new. What might seem familiar to some is new to others. Innovations can be material or nonmaterial. The adoption of material innovations brings about changes in social relations, which means that nonmaterial issues arise in the adoption of material innovations. That is, culture changes with changes in material conditions. Understanding relationships among culture, values, existing practices, and political/social/economic relations is a necessary element of technology transfer.

Chapter 1 provides an overview of the diffusion of innovations approach. Please read it thoroughly before proceeding through this WebCT presentation.

Characteristics of Innovations (Chapter 6)

Innovations vary in the extent to which they offer easily observed costs and benefits compared with existing ideas or practices. The key characteristics of an innovation are its:
  1. Relative advantage: the degree to which the innovation is perceived as better than the idea it supersedes. Relative advantage refers to the extent to which the innovation is more productive, efficient, costs less, or improves in some other manner upon existing practices.

    It might seem like relative advantage alone should be enough to persuade persons to adopt an innovation. Certainly relative advantage is a key indicator of adoption. But sometimes relative advantage is a matter of debate (e.g., legalized abortion), not immediately evident (e.g., sustainable agricultural practices), complex to understand (e.g., food irradiation), circumvented by economic/business/political circumstances (e.g., the popularity of the VHS over the Beta format for home use video tapes), considered as morally abhorrent (e.g., chemical warfare), or moderated by difficulties involved in the transition from the old to the new (e.g., switching from traditional television to HDTV).

    Don't better ideas eventually win out? Not always (ask users of Macintosh computers). And sometimes good ideas like genetically modified food (accept, for the sake of argument, the value judgment here) undergo delays and considerable costs to developers due to initial public resistance that might have been avoided if change agents had focused upon factors other than just relative advantage (e.g., biotechnology companies have had to spend much money on repairing public relations by not anticipating public resistance in Europe to genetically modified foods).

    Thus, good ideas do not sell themselves because "good" can be relative, not immediately evident, complex to understand, circumvented by the market, considered to be morally abhorrent, or difficult to implement.

  2. Compatibility: the degree to which the innovation is perceived as being consistent with existing values, past experiences, and needs of potential adopters.

    Compatibility is the trump card for all innovations, even those with high relative advantage. An innovation must be considered socially acceptable to be implemented. And some innovations require much time and discussion before they become socially acceptable.

    • If the idea seems morally irreconcilable, then the innovation will not be adopted (e.g., euthanasia for the terminally ill is having a hard time catching on with the American public; human cloning might never be accepted).
    • If the innovation is very or sometimes even just a little bit different than current practices, then the innovation will not be adopted (e.g., news reports state that the U.S. Treasury might have to give up on Sacagawea dollars because people do not like to use them).

  3. Complexity: the degree to which the innovation is perceived as difficult to understand and use.

    An innovation need not be particularly complex from the viewpoint of its developers. Feminists, for example, often complain that the public simply doesn't "get it." It is the perception of the end user that means the most for achieving public adoption of a new technology.

    • Food irradiation is difficult to understand, which is part of the reason it has been slow to be adopted by Americans.
    • Personal computers were difficult to learn about when they first were introduced, which slowed their adoption despite their clear relative advantages.
    • No-till farming was complex to understand and also difficult at first to implement because one had to make required adjustments to existing machinery oneself before manufacturers saw sufficient demand to mass produce no-till equipment.

  4. Trialability: the degree to which the innovation may be experimented with on a limited basis.

    Innovations are easier to adopt if they can be tried out in part, on a temporary basis, or easily dispensed with after trial.

    • Nuclear waste storage facilities have to be located and built correctly the first time.
    • There is no going back from affirmative action, civil rights legislation, legalized marriage for gay/lesbian couples, and so forth.

  5. Observability: the degree to which the results of the innovation are visible to others.

    The chances of adoption are greater if folks can easily observe relative advantages of the new technology. In fact, after some adopt, observability can improve the diffusion effect, a critical component of technology transfer we will learn about later in Part I.

    • The advantages of genetically modified foods are not easily observable, at least not at present, for consumers. Therefore, challenges to gm foods carry greater weight than if gm foods had highly visible benefits.
    • A no-tilled farm field had negative observability at first because "good" farmers did not leave plant residue on their fields; they instead left the ground clean of plant residue with deep furrows.

Diffusion Networks (Chapter 8)

Communication and the Diffusion Effect

Mass media presentations create awareness, disseminate hardware (information about the innovation), software (information about how the innovation works), and innovation-evaluation (information about how well the innovation works) messages, and provide feedback to potential adopters about those who have adopted. Because they create awareness, mass communications place some pressure upon opinion leaders to make decisions about the new technology, the importance of which will be explained later in Part I.

Interpersonal communications between experts and the public, opinion leaders and the public, and among friends and family are equally as essential as mass communications in bringing about new technology adoption. Knowing the viewpoints of close referent others (e.g., family and friends) and opinion leaders is a critical element of the social comparison process leading to choice shift.

Diffusion takes place within the context of structures of social relationships based upon power, norms, and public acceptability. Recognizing the influence of social comparison processes on technology transfer is the first essential contribution of the diffusion of innovations model beyond the risk communication techniques addressed in previous sections of Sociology 415. To understand the role of social comparison processes, we begin by defining the diffusion effect as the cumulative increasing degree of influence upon an individual to adopt or reject an innovation, resulting from the activation of peer networks about an innovation in a social system.

Technology adoption, as a form of human agency, depends strongly upon social comparison processes that lead to choice shift. Social comparison processes gather inertia as more persons shift their choice in the prevailing direction of others. Consider the introduction of a complex technology. This innovation creates uncertainties about safety, environmental quality, and so forth. So, people listen to persuasive arguments in favor of and in opposition to the new technology. The public, being ignorant (not irrational) about the science of the technology, then faces the consumer's dilemma of choosing whom to trust. The social comparison process then becomes critical because people seek information beyond that provided by proponents and opponents; that is, they seek some indication of whom to trust.

The important aspect of social systems to recognize is that social collectivities have prestige hierarchies; the opinions of some persons/organizations carry more weight than those of others during the social comparison process. Rogers refers to these more prestigious persons/organizations as opinion leaders. Opinion leaders, as highly prestigious social comparison others, have the ability to sway choice shift towards adoption or rejection. Thus, it is the opinions of opinion leaders that strongly influences adoption or rejection.

Keep in mind that technology adoption always brings about culture change. Thus, an adoption decision is, in the sociological sense, a change in normative expectations (i.e., rules for behavior). Adoption, therefore, is not always a simple process, wherein the new technology is incorporated within the society with very little change to structure and culture. Sometimes, structure and culture must change considerably to adopt and the public requires assurances from opinion leaders to make such a change.

Recognizing the importance of the viewpoints of opinion leaders in influencing adoption decisions provides the change agent with insight into how to bring about desired change, which is to focus upon gaining adoption by opinion leaders with the knowledge that it will be opinion leaders who will persuade others to adopt. We will return to the role of the change agent later in this section.

Models of Mass Communication Flows:

As noted regarding relative advantage, transmission of scientific facts about a new technology sometimes is insufficient to gain adoption. Rogers refers to the hypodermic needle model as the attempt to gain adoption of a complex and controversial technology by transmission of facts alone. He states that this model has had limited success. The two-step flow model, on the other hand, which posits that interpretations of facts are mediated by interactions with others, particularly in learning the viewpoints of opinion leaders, has been shown to provide better explanation of adoption of complex technologies. The "two steps" refer to mass media presentations of the viewpoints of proponents and opponents followed by interactions with others and opinion leaders.

Change agent communication with others is aided by homophily--similarity in socioeconomic characteristics--and hindered by heterophily--dissimilarity in socioeconomic characteristics. The negative effects on interpersonal persuasion resulting from change agent heterophily with potential adopters can be mitigated by understanding and operating within communication networks (i.e., interconnected individuals linked by patterned flows of communication). The structure of a communication network might be such that change agents can gain access to heterophilous opinion leaders by relying upon the strength-of-weak-ties provided by interstitial persons. Imagine a communication structure consisting of two cliques of relatively heterophilous persons, wherein each clique is strongly influenced by one opinion leader. Imagine further that one person (typically, not a strong opinion leader) from each clique has a "weak" tie (i.e., occasional meetings, conversations; perhaps a common interest) with one another. The "strength" of this weak tie between these two interstitial (i.e., bridging) persons is that the change agent can ask the interstitial person with whom he/she is homophilous to provide an introduction to the heterophilous interstitial person and thereby gain access to the heterophilous opinion leader.

Characteristics of Opinion Leaders:

A key aspect of understanding how the social system affects diffusion is that social systems have prestige hierarchies: some persons/organizations are more influential than others. The social comparison process is affected most by opinion leaders. To effectively gain adoption of a new technology, the change agent should know how to identify opinion leaders in the social system. Sometimes, this task is fairly straightforward in that highly influential persons/organizations can be named by members of the social system in a social survey. To learn opinion leaders regarding food safety, for example, one might conduct a nationwide social survey of adults to ask them whom they most trust regarding food safety information. In other cases, for example within a community, opinion leadership can be more difficult to identify. This segment describes opinion leaders and a procedure for identifying them within a community.

The defining characteristic of opinion leaders is they are well respected in their social system. Respect can be associated with higher socioeconomic status (i.e., education, occupation, income), but does not require it. Opinion leaders, for whatever reason, sway adoption decisions through their influence (i.e., informal persuasion), not power (i.e., affect on behavior arising from the use or threat of using force).

Monomorphic opinion leaders affect decisions within a relatively narrow range of issues (e.g., the American Medical Association is influential regarding health-related technology choice); polymorphic opinion leaders influence decisions across several issue areas (e.g., the opinion of the magazine Consumer Reports is respected on many topics).
    Five Approaches to Identifying Opinion Leaders

    The five approaches listed below vary in their expense of implementation and accuracy in locating opinion leaders. To illustrate these approaches, they are presented within the context of locating opinion leaders in a community, say for the purpose of gaining adoption of a municipal bond levy to fund additions and improvements to the school system.

    1. Positional: In this approach, persons in elected or appointed positions in the community are assumed to be opinion leaders. Thus, the school superintendent, city council persons, and the mayor would be assumed to be opinion leaders on school-related issues. This approach is inexpensive--one could learn with a telephone call to the local courthouse who occupies elected and appointed positions. But the approach can be highly inaccurate because it assumes opinion leadership based upon position, rather than respect.

    2. Self-Designating: Here, the change agent asks selected individuals to identify themselves as being influential on school-related issues. The approach has the advantage of getting input on influence from community members, and therefore is more accurate than the positional approach. It requires a bit more expense in that the change agent typically will travel to the community to interview persons for the needed information. A potential pitfall of the self-designating approach is that persons might over- or under-estimate their influence on others.

    3. Reputational: The reputational approach relies upon the nominations of selected individuals on, for example, "the ten most influential persons in this community regarding school-related issues." Using the reputational approach generally improves the accuracy of identifying opinion leaders because one is getting information from more than one source about the influence of others in the community. Typically, persons using the reputational approach will "sno-ball" their nominations from key informants. Key informants are persons who have a thorough knowledge of the community and how it works: newspaper editors, bankers, real estate agents, school superintendents, and city council members make good key informants (the newspaper editor likely will only provide names to talk with, rather than more information, due to issues of confidentiality). Nominations from these key informants are contacted and asked to name their "10 most influential persons...," and so on, until the list of nominations is "sno-balled" into a comprehensive list of persons. Using informal "eyeballing" of the nominations, or sometimes very sophisticated network analysis software, the change agent selects from all nominations the "most often nominated" persons as "reputational" opinion leaders. Remember to ask about opinion leadership with respect to some specific area of skill (e.g., "school-related issues") because opinion leaders in one issue area might not be opinion leaders in another area.

    4. Sociometric: As noted by Rogers, opinion leaders typically are located at the center of communication networks. Sociometry is the mapping, usually using sophisticated network analysis software, of contacts among a potential list of opinion leaders (usually those identified by the reputational approach). This mapping of contacts helps the change agent locate persons who are at the center of communications about the issue area. A question asked of reputational leaders to map contacts might be, "How often do you contact [person X] about school-related issues in this community?"

      One interesting use of sociometric analysis is the identification of cliques of leaders. Personal histories or acquired characteristics such as skin color or gender can underlie the formation of leadership cliques in a community. Sociometric maps can help identify "natural" boundaries among cliques of opinion leaders. Sociometric maps also can help identify interstitial persons, who link leadership cliques. Interstitial persons might be somewhat marginal to their respective cliques, but because they are connected with other cliques, they can provide the change agent with access to cliques that might otherwise be difficult for the change agent to gain rapport. Interstitial persons might have a "weak" tie to one another (i.e., they might not contact one another very often). But the strength" of this weak tie is it gives the change agent access to different cliques of opinion leaders.

    5. Observation: There is no substitute for observing social action within the community. Some opinion leaders are not located at the center of a communication network, but prefer by their personality to be located a bit outside the everyday communication pattern. Also, reputation can be misleading. If the sociometric analysis is conducted using reputational leaders, an important leader might have been left off of the map altogether. Observation, because of costs related to lodging, food, and travel, is the most expensive of the techniques described here, but it is also the most accurate.

The Change Agent (Chapter 9)

The change agent influences clients' innovation decisions in a direction deemed desirable by a change agency. Change agents act as linkers between the change agency and clients.

The change agent:
  1. develops a perceived need for change,
  2. establishes an information exchange relationship (credibility),
  3. diagnoses problems,
  4. creates intent to change in the client,
  5. translates intent into action,
  6. stabilizes adoption and prevents discontinuance, and
  7. achieves a terminal relationship.
Change agent success depends upon:
  1. change agent effort,
  2. change agency vs. client orientation,
  3. change agent empathy,
  4. homophily and change agent contact,
  5. change agent contact with lower status clients,
  6. effective use of paraprofessional aides,
  7. working with opinion leaders, and the
  8. client's evaluative ability to judge the innovation for themselves (the change agent should educate as well as diffuse).
Good listening skills are essential to change agent success in working with opinion leaders. These links provide information on how to learn good listening skills: Centralized and Decentralized Diffusion Systems

The classical diffusion approach assumes a centralized research and development organization that makes most decisions about the innovation and its diffusion. The advantages of the centralized approach to technology development and dissemination are:
  1. a collectivity of technical experts devoted to improving the quality of the technology,
  2. coordinated efforts at technology transfer, and
  3. a limited ability to gain adoption of innovations not popular but important for societal well-being (e.g., seat belt requirements, anti-smoking campaigns, environmental protection laws, civil rights legislation).
The decentralized diffusion approach entails technology development and dissemination from small firms, local entrepreneurs, and grass-roots organizations. The advantages of decentralized innovation development and diffusion are:
  1. advancement of needed changes in the social system (i.e., social movements regarding civil rights, feminism, environmentalism),
  2. encouragement of local initiative in small firms,
  3. local control of technology development, and
  4. motivation for self-reliance.

The Innovation Decision Process (Chapter 5)

The presentation thus far has focused primarily upon relationships between the social system and innovation adoption. This segment describes the time sequence of events leading to adoption. The innovation-decision process is a theoretical model of the stages of decision making resulting in confirmed adoption of a new technology. The process is one example of the axiom underlying social-psychological approaches to explaining attitude and behavior change called the hierarchy-of-effects principle. This principle states that:
  • knowledge causes
  • an evaluation (or attitude) that leads to
  • a commitment to take action that results in
  • behavior change.
The theoretical development of this principle in the mid-1960's coincided with the formulation of the innovation-decision process and other conceptual approaches to explaining behavior change related to attitude change (in contrast to stimulus-response approaches to behavior change).

Stages of the Innovation-Decision Process:
  1. Knowledge. Most often, potential adopters become aware of the innovation through mass media messages distributed by news outlets, trade journals, internet web sites, and scientific publications. Because consumers' engage in selective exposure to preferred sources of information and selective perception of certain types of information, change agents must carefully plan their presentations of hardware, software, and innovation-evaluation information. Knowledge acquisition about low-involvement innovations--new products with few perceived risks (i.e., consumer goods)--raises uncertainties for the consumer. Is this a high quality product? Is it being sold at a good price? Will it be a popular choice for others? Learning about high involvement innovations--complex, controversial technologies--raises these same uncertainties and many more. Am I being told all the truth about this technology? Is it safe for me and others? Will its adoption lead to inequities in the sharing of risk?

    Knowledge diffusion can be a difficult period for proponents of a new technology. Much more information must be disseminated than for low involvement innovations. The information is more technical and, by nature, less certain because the technology is new. Most importantly, perhaps, active opposition groups disseminate unfavorable messages about the technology. It is critical for proponents to recognize that, because negative information carries disproportionate weight, they usually are at a disadvantage during the knowledge stage of diffusion. It is equally critical for proponents to recognize that the consumer is not being irrational by not immediately accepting the scientific viewpoint of a new technology, but instead is being justifiably skeptical of a new technology that is being opposed by consumer advocacy organizations.

  2. Persuasion. For low involvement innovations much of the diffusion process rests upon marketing principles of product, pricing, place, and promotion. Gaining adoption of high involvement innovations also requires attention to these four p's, but demands further that the social comparison process be influenced by opinion leaders supportive of the technology because, unlike for low involvement innovations, consumers are being exposed to messages that oppose high involvement innovations. Thus, gaining adoption of a complex, controversial technology requires a good product, price, and so forth, but it requires also that respected opinion leaders who support it to counter the opposition arguments. One has to sell a low involvement technology to a passive audience; one has to sell a high involvement innovation to an audience who is exposed to active opposition to it.

    Whereas opponents typically have the advantage at the knowledge stage, proponents usually gain the advantage at the persuasion stage. This shift occurs because research and development organizations usually are university based or are otherwise respected technology development firms. Thus, they enjoy the reputation of being relatively correct in their risk assessments and trustworthy in their pursuit of improving society. Respected opinion leaders, therefore, because they have close contacts with centralized research and development organizations and because they know that most often the technologies produced by these organizations will be based upon sound scientific principles, support the new technology. Given that support from opinion leaders is critical to gaining adoption of high involvement innovations in the face of arguments by well-organized opposition groups, proponents typically regain their lost initiative at the persuasion stage.

    We might at this time begin a healthy debate about the characteristics of an ideal society. We might discuss and debate about the concept of progress. We might argue that scientists usually receive support from opinion leaders because they usually are correct. We might also consider the interlocking nature of relationships among powerful research and development organizations and opinion leaders and whether these relationships further the common good. The good change agent, as we will discuss in Part II of this section will ask many questions about the inevitable negative consequences of new technology adoption. For now, it is important to realize that centralized research and development organizations and opinion leaders often are of the same mind and therefore proponents usually have the advantage over opponents at the persuasion stage.

  3. Decision. The decision that the innovation is worthy of being adopted represents a major advance for proponents of a high involvement technology. Proponents, with support from opinion leaders, have overcome opposition arguments to convince consumers to accept the technology. This act of symbolic adoption, however important it is, does not assure behavioral adoption. Symbolic adoption by more and more consumers does add inertia to the diffusion effect. As more persons adopt, there is increasing pressure for non-adopters to adopt. This pressure to adopt comes about because adoption of a new technology:

    • Oftentimes brings about changes in related technologies. Changes in computer hardware and software capabilities, for example, often go hand-in-hand, making it difficult to hold on to a personal computer and still be able to utilize software that others have adopted.
    • Can be accompanied by changes in infrastructure support for older technologies.
    • Can sometimes bring about changes in laws that favor the newer technology.
    • Can shift economic advantage to use of the newer technology.
    • Is accompanied by cultural changes that favor the newer technology.

    That is, not adopting sometimes can bring about social, economic, and political disadvantages as others adopt.

  4. Implementation. Implementation refers to the initial trial period for the new technology. The move from symbolic adoption to implementation is not necessarily an easy one. Obstacles to implementation include:

    • Transaction costs: It might be expensive to make the move to the new technology, even though it has long-term economic advantages.
    • Infrastructure support: Because the technology is new, technical support, servicing, retail chains, and other aspects of market development might not be sufficient to encourage implementation.
    • Personal decisions: The end-use might recognize the relative advantages of the new technology, but find themselves in cash-flow problem, in the middle of another transition, or at the end of their career and not willing to invest in change that reaps only long-term benefits.

    Implementation often entails re-invention, an alteration of the innovation by the adopter. Adopters alter the new technology to fit their specific needs. Sometimes, alterations are trivial in nature, reflecting more a narcissism of small differences rather than a substantive change in the makeup or functioning of the innovation. Such modifications might be nevertheless important for confirmation in that people usually like to feel some sense of ownership over new technologies. The advantages of re-invention include:

    • increased flexibility in applications of the innovation,
    • increased relative advantage for local use, and
    • increased sense of ownership over the new technology.

    Re-invention can create problems for the adopter, however, and is not always encouraged by research and development organizations. Disadvantages of re-invention include:

    • improper application leading to less effectiveness of the innovation,
    • inability of the research and development organization to maintain quality control over the technology in use,
    • legal problems if the change infringes upon the protection of a closely related technology.

  5. Confirmation. Confirmation involves seeking of reinforcement for the adoption decision and integration of the new technology within the framework of existing practices.

    Because social comparison is critical to adopting high-involvement innovations, reinforcement of the social acceptability of the innovation after implementation is an important aspect of the innovation-decision process. Social psychologists working in the 1950's recognized the importance of dissonance reduction on behavior change. Once a difficult decision has been made the adopter finds it psychologically satisfying to accentuate the good reasons for making the decision to adopt and decentuate the good reasons for not adopting. Note for yourself how your thoughts about the good qualities of that other automobile (an expensive item for most persons to purchase) diminish after taking ownership of the automobile you selected to purchase. This game we play to sooth our anxieties about difficult decisions becomes more important the greater the stakes involved in the adoption decision. Adopters of complex, controversial technologies, therefore, look for signals that their decision was the correct one. Good change agents, therefore, will reinforce the decision and seek ways to facilitate the transition to using the new technology (most likely, your automobile dealer contacted you shortly after your purchase to confirm your decision and seek your feedback on the product).

    Discontinuance, or rejection of a technology, can occur anytime including during confirmation. Replacement discontinuance occurs when a better innovation is introduced and adopted. Disenchantment discontinuance results when problems arise with the design or usefulness of the innovation that were not anticipated. Highly complex innovations can be discontinued when persons think they can master them but find they cannot. Changes in policy or in economic, social, or environmental conditions can lessen the effectiveness of the innovation. Nothing is certain but change, right?

Innovativeness and Adopter Categories (Chapter 7)

Experience has taught diffusion scholars that adopters can be classified within five categories: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. The specific percentage of adopters in each category is not critical information; neither are the differences in characteristics that separate any two of the categories. The importance of the classification scheme is to highlight that the characteristics and needs of potential adopters differ during the diffusion process. Of special importance is recognizing the roles played by innovators and early adopters.

Innovators with respect to one new technology but be laggards with respect to another. People do, however, tend to exhibit socioeconomic and psychological qualities that place them within certain adopter categories:
  1. Innovators (first 5 percent of adopters) tend to be venturesome, cosmopolite, networked with other innovators, have available financial resources, understand complex technical knowledge, and be able to cope with uncertainty. Change agents should recognize that, for high-involvement innovations, innovators do not significantly affect adoption decisions. Innovators, by definition, are too socially marginal to gain the respect needed to be an opinion leader. Thus, while adoption by innovators might encourage the change agent (as it did Nelida in Los Molinas), it cannot be expected that innovators will generate much diffusion effect.

  2. Early Adopters (next 10 percent of adopters) are respected and more local than innovators. It is from this category that the change agent should expect to locate opinion leaders. These persons are venturesome, but sufficiently skeptical to recognize good innovations from poor ones. Because opinion leaders have more influence on the diffusion effect than persons in any other adopter category, it is persons in this category that the change agent attempts to persuade to adopt.

  3. Early Majority (next 35 percent) tend to interact frequently with peers, seldom hold positions of opinion leadership but have strong interconnectedness within the system's interpersonal networks, and tend to have a long period of deliberation before making an adoption decision.

  4. Late Majority (next 35 percent) tend to adopt from economic/social necessity due to the diffusion effect. They usually are skeptical and cautious and have few extra resources to risk on high-involvement innovations.

  5. Laggards (final 15 percent) are the most localite, suspicious of change agents and innovations, and have few resources to risk. It might sound as if the laggards are a doltish lot. In fact, persons within this category might be highly innovative in their symbolic adoption but slow to implement because they have few financial resources to offset transition costs or little access to innovation-evaluation information. By coincidence or design, laggards are the "smartest" ones when seemingly beneficial innovations become unexpectedly costly or ineffective.

    The inability of some to adopt when they would like to do so underscores the fact that new technology adoption can further existing inequalities. That is, if the new technology creates economic advantages, but requires resources to offset transaction costs, then income inequalities can widen as a result of new technology adoption. The innovativeness-needs paradox refers to the social problem wherein the individuals who most need the benefits of an innovation generally are the last to adopt it.

Empirical Example

In The Social Fabric and Innovation Diffusion: The Case of Food Irradiation Stephen Sapp and Peter Korsching describe how the diffusion approach can be used to understand consumer opinions of food irradiation. They found that, while information about food irradiation from its opponents can create negative opinions about it, over time these opinions become more positive due mainly to the consumer's compliance with the viewpoints of opinion leaders. Thus, their findings support the diffusion of innovations approach in showing that opinion leader influence can have a significant effect on consumer opinions.
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