Diffusion can be defined as the process by which an innovation is adopted and gains acceptance by members of a certain community.
It can also be defined as the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system. Diffusion is a special type of communication concerned with the spread of messages that are perceived as new ideas.
A number of factors interact to influence the diffusion of an innovation. The four major factors that influence the diffusion process are the innovation itself, how information about the innovation is communicated, time, and the nature of the social system into which the innovation is being introduced (Rogers, 1995).
Four Main Elements in the Diffusion of Innovations
Rogers offered the following description of an innovation: “An innovation is an idea, practice, or project that is perceived as new by an individual or other unit of adoption” (Rogers, 2003, p. 12). An innovation may have been invented a long time ago, but if individuals perceive it as new, then it may still be an innovation for them. The newness characteristic of an adoption is more related to the three steps (knowledge, persuasion, and decision) of the innovation-decision process that will be discussed later.
The second element of the diffusion of innovations process is communication channels. For Rogers (2003), communication is “a process in which participants create and share information with one another in order to reach a mutual understanding” (p. 5). This communication occurs through channels between sources. Rogers states that “a source is an individual or an institution that originates a message. A channel is the means by which a message gets from the source to the receiver” (p. 204). Rogers states that diffusion is a specific kind of communication and includes these communication elements: an innovation, two individuals or other units of adoption, and a communication channel.
According to Rogers (2003), the time aspect is ignored in most behavioral research. He argues that including the time dimension in diffusion research illustrates one of its strengths. The innovation-diffusion process, adopter categorization, and rate of adoptions all include a time dimension. These aspects of Rogers’ theory will be discussed later in more detail.
The social system is the last element in the diffusion process. Rogers (2003) defined the social system as “a set of interrelated units engaged in joint problem solving to accomplish a common goal” (p. 23). Since diffusion of innovations takes place in the social system, it is influenced by the social structure of the social system. For Rogers (2003), structure is “the patterned arrangements of the units in a system” (p. 24). He further claimed that the nature of the social system affects individuals’ innovativeness, which is the main criterion for categorizing adopters.
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