Diffusion of innovations theory is often simplified to focus solely on a product or innovation, disregarding the complex societal, cultural, economic and other factors that determine how the product is adopted into society. Diffusion research focusing on a few select innovations often fails to advance and draw important conclusions on the larger theory.
Conflicts of Interest
Diffusion scholars often collaborate with manufacturers when examining a new product or innovation. Giving the needs of the manufacturer priority can compromise the quality of these studies. Furthermore, manufacturers often prioritize customer preferences and tastes -- factors that can add a trivial and theoretical spin to diffusion research. Study results are often weaker and less reliable when they focus on a business model as opposed to the social process by which diffusion occurs.
Diffusion research may ignore cultural norms. A 1955 study of a health campaign in a Peruvian village, for example, reported villagers overwhelmingly resisting the idea of boiling water. Health workers failed to note the villagers' preference for cold, "uncooked" water. Focusing on the product or idea while ignoring cultural customs can lead to failed attempts at diffusion. This type of campaign would benefit from an anthropological approach that examines the day-to-day perspective of the individuals involved.
Many societies lack the necessary infrastructure or networks to promote and adopt a new technology. Diffusion research has often focused more on the innovation itself rather than these socio-cultural differences. Studies show that technological innovations are more successful when they provide a beneficial role for the consumer. Many societies around the world, however, face economic constraints or legal roadblocks that can render the benefits or effectiveness of an innovation obsolete. An impoverished nation, for example, may have little use for social networking or the latest wireless internet technology.
Poorly defined attempts at introducing an idea or innovation can impede diffusion. For example, national health groups may provide conflicting information on the appropriate age for mammography screening. This lack of consensus confuses the public and health insurance providers, slowing the diffusion of this important treatment. The Internet, as a vast source of information, can also at times confuse consumers with misleading and opposing facts and opinions. Studies show that many patients are interested in web technology allowing them to determine their own treatment. Doctors are wary of these applications because of the potential for misuse.
- Stanford University; Diffusion of Innovations by Everett Rogers (1995); March 2003
- Institute for the Future; Diffusion of Innovation in Health Care; May 2002
- “Diffusion of Innovations: Fourth Edition”; Everett M. Rogers; 1995
- Evaluation of Internet-Based Technology for Supporting Self-Care; Nicol Nijland, et al.; March 2008
Patricio Chile has been writing for print and online publications since 2007. His articles have appeared in "Third Sector Magazine," TheCityFix.com and the university newspaper "The Eagle." Chile graduated from American University in 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and political science.