Diffusion of Innovations

diffusion-of-innovationThis theory describes the process by which new ideas (innovations) are spread through a community or social structure (Glanz & Rimer, 2005). It sees innovations as being adopted initially by a minority of individuals who are more receptive to new ideas. Important to this theory is how certain ideas are spread throughout communities or societies through particular channels over time (Glanz & Rimer, 2005). Gradually, as more people pick up the new behavior, others follow. It stipulates that once a critical mass of approximately 20 percent of the population has adopted the new behavior, the vast majority (approximately 70 percent) of those remaining will do the same (Rogers, 2003). The theory also acknowledges that some people within society will adopt new behaviors very slowly, while others still will never change (Rogers, 2003; Glanz & Rimer, 2003).

Multiple factors can affect how quickly a certain idea spread, including:

  • Its advantage
  • Whether it is concordance with community/society
  • How complex it is
  • How easily it can be attempted
  • Whether the change can be witnessed with observable effects (Glanz & Rimer, 2005, p. 28)

This theory can be helpful in situations where changes in ideas or behaviors in communities can make significant inroads into crisis situations. For example, changes in burial practices during an Ebola outbreak could be diffused throughout a community to address the spread of Ebola. Importantly, SBCC interventions in crisis situations should acknowledge how such diffusion happens and the factors that affect it in order to identify those behaviors or practices that are most amenable to change during emergency situations. In particular, this theory tells us that SBCC interventions should:

  • Assess how, why and how quickly populations respond to the introduction of new ideas. Then, use these findings to inform activities.
  • Work with leaders and other influential individuals in target communities to encourage them to adopt the new desired behaviors and promote them to the rest of the community.
  • Use agents of change to “diffuse” the new behavior.
  • Identify changes in ideas or behaviors that can be diffused by looking at the important factors that affect how quickly they can spread throughout communities.

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