What does Diffusion of Innovation tell us about behavior?

Diffusion of Innovation refers to the spread of new ideas and behaviors within a community or from one community to another.

Some individuals and groups in society are quicker to pick up new ideas, or “innovations,” than others. Young people are typically associated with adopting new trends, such as fashion or technology, more quickly than adults. This theory identifies five categories that define a person’s propensity to accept or adopt the innovation:

  1. Innovators: the quickest to adopt an innovation. However, they may be seen as fickle by other community members and are less likely to be trusted and copied.
  2. Early adopters: more mainstream within the community and are characterized by acceptance of innovation and some personal/financial resources to be able to adopt the innovation.
  3. Early majority: amenable to change and persuaded of the benefits of the innovation by observing.
  4. Late majority: skeptical and reluctant to adopt new ideas until the benefits are clearly established.
  5. Laggards: these are most conservative and resistant to change; sometimes, they may never change.

The likelihood of adopting an innovation/behavior depends on the audience, environmental barriers and facilitators, the communication system and the innovation’s attributes, such as:

Relative advantage: does the behavior offer an advantage over the current behavior? (For example, does using contraception offer Awa a benefit (e.g., peace of mind) she currently doesn’t have?)

Compatibility: is the behavior compatible with prevailing social and cultural values? (For example, is it culturally acceptable for a girl like Awa to use contraception?)

Complexity: how difficult is the new behavior to perform? (For example, would Awa be able to manage maintaining her contraceptive method?)

Triability: can the behavior be tried out without too much risk? (For example, is it possible for Awa to try out a contraceptive method and see what it’s like?)

Observability: are there opportunities to see what happens to others who adopt the behavior? (For example, does Awa have access to friends who are using contraception that can talk to her about it?)

How can Diffusion of Innovation be applied?

Diffusion of Innovation can be used to change behaviors that are influenced by social norms and social trends. The theory tells us how to promote the desired behavior by focusing on attributes. This can be done through agents of change, that is, the early adopters of a new behavior who promote it and encourage others to adopt it. Agents of change can be people working in the community or community members who have adopted the new behavior and can act as role models. Targeting effective agents of change, such as local leaders, influential individuals, peers and celebrities, can accelerate the adoption of a new behavior.