Literature Review

Diffusion of Innovations

The Diffusion of Innovations is one of the most popular and cited theories for investigating and understanding the adoption and implementation of innovations by individuals, communities, organizations and countries (Jeyaraj, Rottman, & Lacity, 2006). Diffusion research began at the turn of the twentieth century and coalesced in the early 1960s with the publication of Everett M. Rogers’ Diffusion of

Innovations. Now in its fifth edition, the book integrates diffusion research across diverse fields such as agriculture, anthropology, communication, education, health care, marketing, management and sociology (Rogers, 2003).

Three diffusion findings relevant to SE are the concept of change agents, the unexpected and undesirable consequences of an innovation, and the distinction between the adoption and implementation of an innovation (Rogers, 2003). For example, an individual’s adoption of a smartphone may not result in efficient or effective use of the phone’s many features. Regarding undesirable consequences, the change agents promoting the adoption an innovation may not foresee the medium- to long-term consequences of using/implementing that innovation.

Rogers (2003) illustrates such negative outcomes with two community examples, Finnish Laplanders adopting snowmobiles and Australian Aboriginals adopting steel axes. Although promoted to facilitate reindeer herding, the outcome was just the opposite. “The snowmobile revolution pushed the Skolt Lapps into a tailspin of cash dependency, debt and unemployment (Rogers, 2003, p. 439).” In Australia, missionaries gave steel axes to the Yir Yoront tribe as an alternative to their stone implements. Rather than ameliorating living conditions, the steel axes led to a breakdown of community structure, trading patterns and religious festivals, and increased dependency and prostitution. This Australian example highlights the toxic outcome of giving charity.

 
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