A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF DIFFUSION OF INNOVATION THEORY

BY AFOLAYAN EMMANUEL AYODELE

INTRODUCTION

Have you ever wondered why you are using cell phone (GSM)? Why do you think computer is now an indispensable commodity? Why the rush for face-book account, yahoo account and other internet account? The study of diffusion of innovation (DOI) theory will help in giving answers to these questions.
Anaeto, Onabajo and Osifeso (2008) see DOI as how new ideas and discoveries spread to members of social system. It shows that there must be something new (innovation/information spread through communication channels to a particular society. When there is a new idea, Bittner (2003) asserts that it is the media that presents information that makes us aware of the existence of the new innovation.

According to Kaze (2005), the following are the principles of DOI theory:
(i) Diffusion research centres on the conditions which increase or decrease the likelihood that a new idea , product, or practice will be adopted or not.
(ii) DOI theory predicts that media as well as interpersonal contacts provide information and influence opinion and judgment.
(iii) Opinion leaders exert influence on audience behaviour via their personal contact, but additional intermediaries (called change agents and gate keepers) are also included in the process of diffusion.
(iv) The information flows through network; the nature of networks and the roles opinion leaders play determine the likelihood that the innovation will be adopted.

EVOLUTION OF DIFFUSION OF INNOVATION THEORY
In 1962, Everest Rogers combined information flow research findings with studies about the flow of information and personal influence in several fields, including anthropology, sociology, and rural agricultural extension work.
He developed what he called diffusion theory, an extension of Paul Lazarsfield’s original idea of the two step flow. Roger’s effort at integrating information research with diffusion theory was so successful that information theory became known as information diffusion theory and when it is applied to something other than information, i.e technology; it is called diffusion of innovation (DOI) theory.
Prior to this, B. Ryan and N. Gross had already done a research that span for 20 years on Iowa farmers. The information on the new ideas was released in 1928 and the following took place in 1943 as cited by Anaeto et al (2008):
• 259 farmers were interviewed to ascertain how they adopted hybrid seed corn and to obtain information about them and their farm operations.
• The rate of adoption was plotted over time.
• Farmers were assigned to adopt categories based on time of adoption of the new seed corn.
• Various communication channels were responsible in decision making process.
The adoption of this innovation resulted in agricultural innovations that span for more than 20 years and a revolution in farm productivity. Rogers used part of this in his own research. He assembled data from numerous empirical studies to show that when new technologies are introduced, they passed through a series of stages before being wildly adopted.
First, most people become aware of them, often through information from the mass media. Second, the innovation will be adopted by a very small group of innovators or early adopters. Third, opinion leaders learn from the early adopters and try the innovations. Fourth, if opinion leaders find the innovations useful, they encourage their friends – the opinion followers. Finally, after most people have adopted the innovation, a group of the laggards makes the change.

PROCESSES OF DIFFUSION OF INNOVATION THEORY
Rogers (1995) looks at the process of this theory as a mental process that an individual passes through before adopting or rejecting an innovation. Katz, Blumler, and Gurevitch (1974) affirm that for a new idea to diffuse there must be awareness stage, interest stage, evaluation stage, trial and adoption stage. For proper understanding, Rogers amended these stages and came out with his own processes which are: knowledge, persuasion, decision, implementation, and confirmation stage.
(i) Knowledge – It simply refers to exposure to the new idea, having understanding of it and how it works. According to Bittner (2003), it is the media that presents information that makes us aware of the existence of an item. During this stage, the individual has not been inspired to find more information about the innovation.
(ii) Persuasion – This has to do with one’s attitude towards the innovation. In this stage, the individual is interested in the innovation and actively seeks informations/details about the innovation (Rogers, 1995).
(iii) Decision – Whether to accept or reject an innovation is at this stage. It is the choice that an individual makes after thinking and talking about what is the best thing to do. No wonder Rogers (1964) has this to say:
In this stage the individual takes the concept of the change and weighs the advantages of using the innovation and decides whether to adopt or reject the innovation. Due to the individualistic of this stage, it is the most difficult stage to acquire empirical evidence.
(iii) Implementation Stage – This is the stage where a would-be adopter decides to give the new idea a trial. Rogers (1964) further asserts that the individual employs the innovation to a varying degree depending on the situation. The individual then determines the usefulness of the innovation and may search for further information about it.
(iv) Confirmation Stage – An individual decides to accept or reject the innovation at this stage. The individual finalizes his decision to continue using the innovation and may use the innovation to its fullest potential.

RATES OF ADOPTION
The rate of adoption is the relative speed with which members of a social system adopt an innovation. It is usually measured by the length of time required for a certain percentage of the members of a social system to adopt an innovation (Rogers, 1962). The rates of adoption are determined by an adopters’ category. In general, individual who first adopts an innovation requires a short adoption period (adoption process) than late adopters. Within the rate of adoption, there is a point an innovation reaches critical mass. This a point in time within curve that enough individuals have adopted an innovation in order that the continued adoption of the innovation is self sustaining.

In describing how an innovation reaches critical mass , Rogers outlines several stategies which are: Have an innovation adopted by a highly respected individual within a social network creating an institive desire for a specific innovation; Inject an innovaion into a group of individuals who would readily use an innovation, and provide positive reations and benefits for early adopters of an innovation.
Rogers also give five factors that could increase the chance of an innovation being quickly adopted. One, the innovation must have relative advantage over the existing ones. Two, it must be compatible with existing values, past experiences, and needs. Three, it must not be complex i.e difficult to understand and use. Four, it must be tri-able, the degree to which it can be experimented with on a limited basis. Six ,it must be able to yield positive results.

CATEGORIES OF ADOPTERS
Rogers (1962) defines an adopter category as a classification of individuals within a social system on the basis of innovativeness. In his book, Diffusion of Innovations, Rogers suggests a total of five adopters: Innovators, Early adopters, Early majority, Late majority, and Laggards.
(i) Innovators – Innovators are the first individuals to adopt an innovation. They are willing to take risk, youngest in age, have the highest social class, have great financial lucidity, very social, and have close contact to scientific sources and interaction with other innovators. Risk tolerance has them adoping tecnologies which may fail. Financial resources absorb these failures (Rogers, 1962). They absorb innovation quickly because they can absorb risk and when the innoation fails, they can bear the burden because of their financial status.
(ii) Early adopters – This is the second fastest category who adopt an innovation. These individuals have the highest degree of opinion leadership among the other categories. They are typicaly younger in age, have a higher social status, have more financial lucidity and advanced education, and are more socially forward than the other three categories. They also have the ability to absorb risk and financial lucidity to withstand any eventualty.
(iii) Early majority – Individuals in this category adopt an innovation after a varying degree of time. This type of adoption is signicantly longer than the innovators and early adopters. They tend to be slower in the adoption process, have above average social status, have limited contact with ealy adopters and seldom hold positions of opinion leadership in a system. They have less tolerance to risk because their financial resources is not as bouyant as the above two categories.
(iv) Late majority – Individuals in this category will adopt an innovation after the average member of the society. They approach an innovation with a high degree of skepticim and after the majority of society has adopted the innovation. They have below average social status, very little financial lucidity, and very little opinion leadership. They have no risk tolerance and always give irelevant reasons for not adopting an innovation.
(v) Laggards – Individuals in this category are the last to adopt an innovation. Unlike some of the previous categories, individuals here show little or no opinion leadership. They have an aversion to change agents and tend to be advanced in age. An average laggard tend to be focused on traditions, likely to have lowest social status, lowest financial lucidity, be oldest of all other adopters and in contact with only family and close friends. They are stragglers and have shilly shally altitude.

RELEVANCE OF DIFFUSION OF INNOVATION THEORY IN THIS CONTEMPORARY WORLD
DOI theory has relevance in this present age and will not likely lose its relevance thousand years to come. This is because new innovations/ideas are daily occurrence and off course will continually be diffused so that people can adopt them.
Take for example, the issue of GSM; it was viewed with skepticism at its introduction. The media was the first to swing to action. Most print media wrote a lot of features on how it will be like when this telecommunications start operation. Innovators and early adopters quickly grasp the opportunity when the operation started. They in turn encourage the opinion leaders and change agents who saw to it that the innovation reaches the early and late adopters and finally before all and sundry adopted the innovation.
Another instance of the relevance of this theory in the present day was how information on polio vaccine was diffused in the country. Citizens especially in the northern part of the country viewed polio vaccine with skepticism. The mass media swung into action by debasing the notion that polio vaccine reduces the fertility input among children.
After the mass media inform the public on the merits of the idea, the innovators and the early adopters (in this case the Sultan and top Emirs who doubled as opinion leaders and change agents) adopt the idea and canvas for polio vaccination to their subjects. The word of the Sultan really brought about drastic adoption of the innovation over time. It should also be noted that the use of herbal medicine is now undergoing processes and in no time, herbal products would become acceptable generally in the country.
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES OF THE THEORY
The strength of a theory shows the positive value of the theory. DOI theory has the following strengths:
The ability of Rogers to review thousand of studies is a plus to the theory. Rogers successfully integrates a vast amount of empirical research; no wonder, the theory is still relevant in the present day situation. DOI represents important advancement over earlier limited effects theory. It drew from existing empirical generalizations and synthesized them into a coherent, insightful perspective. It was consistent with most findings from effects surveys and persuasion experiments, and above all, it is very practical. It laid the foundation for numerous promotional communication and marketing theories and the campaigns they support even till today.
The theory also provides practical guide for information campaigns in the United State and other places. The United State Agency for International Development (UNSAID) used its strategy to spread agricultural innovations in the third world (Anaeto, 2008).
During the cold world of the 1950s and 1960s, the United State competed against the USSR for influence in the developing nations. The hope was that by leading a green revolution and helping them better feed themselves, the US needed to convince peasants and rural villagers to adopt a large number of new agricultural innovations as quickly as possible. Rogers’ information/diffusion theory became a manual for the effort.
Despite the explained strength of this theory, the weaknesses go a long way in reducing the power of the theory.
One of such is that DIO theory is linear and source dominated because it sees communication process from the point of view of elite who has decided to diffuse information or an innovation.
This theory also underestimates the power of media. They mainly create awareness of the new innovations. It assigns a very central role to different types of people critical to the diffusion process. The theory simply says that the media influence innovators or early adopters who influence opinion leaders who in turn influence everyone else. Rogers failed to realize that the media can also be used to provide a basis for group discussions led by change agents.
Another fall out of this theory is that it stimulates adoption by groups that do not want the innovation. To illustrate this, a campaign to get Georgia farm wives to use can vegetables was initially judged a great success until it was found that very few women were using the vegetables. Most did not know the recipes for cooking canned vegetables, and those who tried found out that family members didn’t like the taste.
This sort of experience was duplicated around the world, Stanley( nd.) reveals that corn was grown in Mexico and rice in South Asia that no one wanted to eat; farmers in India destroyed their crops by using too much fertilizer; farmers adopted complex new machinery only to have it break down and stand idle after change agents left.
The researcher’s state of origin (Kwara) also witnesses this experience. The former governor of the state, Bukola Saraki brought in some white Zimbabwean farmers to help cultivate rice in abundance and also produce milk through the Zimbabwean cows that were also brought in.
Shonghai milk (as the milk from this farm is always called) was initially tagged a success as people mounted the stickers of the product on their vehicles, doors etc. It was later discovered that the residents of Kwara prefer taking peak milk and the like to Shonghai milk. The same thing applicable to Shonghai rice, mere top-down diffusion innovations didn’t guarantee long-term success.

A CRITIQUE OF DIFFUSION OF INNOVATION
In the adopters’ categories of this theory, it is noted that the category of a set of adopters is omitted. Rogers didn’t realize that some adopters may have the features of innovators/early adopters but may not quickly adopt an innovation.
For example, a lady may not adopt a new innovation that has to do with jewries, not because she is a laggard but because of a belief about jewelries probably because of religion. The researcher is of the opinion that an adopter may be young, venturesome, financially okay (these are some of the features of early adopters/innovator), and yet delay in adopting an innovation. Rogers never care about this category; as such no name was given.
After serious academic discourse with a fellow researcher, Victor Babatunde (Personal Communication, December 12, 2011), the researcher concluded that zero tolerance should be incorporated into the adopters’ categories. This will take care of people who are innovators in feature but may not readily adopt some new innovations/inventions

CONCLUSION
It is of importance to give more credence to the effort of mass media in every new idea or innovation. DOI theory has given too much power to opinion leaders and change agents and believes that they are responsible for the adoption of late majority, late adopters, and laggards.
At the persuasion stage where an individual seeks for more information about the new idea/innovation, the mass media role in this aspect of information need not to be down played.
The mass media also have a role to play when the process is at the decision stage. The continuous exposure to media content as related to the new idea/innovation would go a long way in convincing an individual to confirm and adopt the innovation.

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