Full citation

Ashley, S.R. (2009). Innovation Diffusion: Implications for Evaluation. New Directions for Evaluation, (124), 35-45.

Format: Peer-reviewed article

Type: Research — Non-experimental

Experience level of reader: Fundamental

Annotation: The author introduces diffusion theory and frames its contribution and value to evaluation. The theory alerts evaluators to examine the uptake of an innovation (intervention) according to the characteristics of: the innovation itself; the people and social systems involved; the timing, staging and rate of adoption; and the communications channels used. Application of the theory can also yield useful information to assist with subsequent replication of the intervention by other stakeholders. The author also distinguishes diffusion from dissemination.

Setting(s) to which the reported activities/findings are relevant: University

Knowledge user(s) to whom the piece of literature may be relevant: Researchers

Knowledge user level addressed by the literature: Organization

This article uses the Commercial Devices and Services version of the NtK Model

Primary Findings

Carriers:

  • When planning, implementing or evaluating a knowledge translation (innovation) process, diffusion theory suggests that potential knowledge users typically go through a five-stage adoption process. Under ideal circumstances, the first stage is awareness, followed by persuasion, then adoption, next implementation and finally confirmation.
    Literature Review and Synthesis.
    Occurrence of finding within the model: KTA Stage 1, KTA Stage 2, KTA Stage 3
  • When planning, implementing or evaluating a knowledge translation (innovation) process, diffusion theory suggests that one of the factors that can influence the appeal of new knowledge to a potential knowledge user is the relative advantage of the new knowledge in relation to existing knowledge and related practices. Generally, adoption strength increases with increasing value of the knowledge. Stakeholder perceptions are equally important. Newness counts as a value.
    Literature Review and Synthesis.
    Occurrence of finding within the model: KTA Stage 1, KTA Stage 2, KTA Stage 3
  • A clear understanding of the diffusion process can deepen and broaden the scope of an evaluation and help to reveal factors that contributed to the adoption of an innovation (intervention).
    Literature review and synthesis.
    Occurrence of finding within the model: KTA Step 3.F, KTA Step 6.F, KTA Step 7.F
  • When planning, implementing or evaluating a knowledge translation (innovation) process, diffusion theory strongly advises that you be prepared for the potential for locally-driven, contextually-motivated modifications to be made to the new knowledge in order to assure fit and continued use.
    Literature review and synthesis.
    Occurrence of finding within the model: KTA Stage 1, KTA Stage 2, KTA Stage 3

Measures:

  • When evaluating a knowledge translation process, one of the questions an evaluator can asks is: What were the attributes of the process that facilitated or impeded application of the new knowledge?
    Literature review and synthesis.
    Occurrence of finding within the model: KTA Tip 1.2, KTA Tip 2.2, KTA Tip 3.1, KTA Step 3.F, KTA Step 6.F, KTA Step 7.F
  • When evaluating a knowledge translation process, one of the questions an evaluator can asks is: Were potential knowledge users given enough time to process their decision to apply the new knowledge?
    Literature review and synthesis.
    Occurrence of finding within the model: KTA Step 3.F, KTA Step 6.F, KTA Step 7.F
  • When evaluating a knowledge translation process, one of the questions an evaluator can asks is: How are the actors in the social system interconnected?
    Literature review and synthesis.
    Occurrence of finding within the model: KTA Step 3.F, KTA Step 6.F, KTA Step 7.F
  • When evaluating a knowledge translation process, one of the questions an evaluator can asks is: In what ways do the appliers of the new knowledge differ from the resistors (or non-appliers)?
    Literature review and synthesis.
    Occurrence of finding within the model: KTA Tip 1.2, KTA Tip 2.2, KTA Tip 3.1, KTA Step 3.F, KTA Step 6.F, KTA Step 7.F
  • When evaluating a knowledge translation process, one of the questions an evaluator can asks is: Which communication channels were most effective at different times in the process, or with different categories of potential knowledge users?
    Literature review and synthesis.
    Occurrence of finding within the model: KTA Step 3.F, KTA Step 7.F, KTA Step 6.F
  • When evaluating a knowledge translation process, one of the questions an evaluator can asks is: Who are the opinion leaders among the intended audience, and what role do they play in applying the new knowledge?
    Literature review and synthesis.
    Occurrence of finding within the model: KTA Step 3.F, KTA Step 6.F, KTA Step 7.F
  • When evaluating a knowledge translation process, one of the questions an evaluator can asks is: What contextual factors contributed to application of the new knowledge?
    Literature review and synthesis.
    Occurrence of finding within the model: KTA Step 3.F, KTA Step 6.F, KTA Step 7.F

Secondary Findings

Carriers:

  • When planning, implementing or evaluating a knowledge translation (innovation) process, diffusion theory suggests that one of the factors that can influence the process and outcome is the social system — the contextual space in which the knowledge is expected to be used (e.g., individual, institutional, political, and environmental factors). As one example, one set of factors that can determine how and if new knowledge will reach its intended audience are the characteristics of the individuals that are involved, including personality traits and communication behavior. (Brown [1981])
    Occurrence of finding within the model: KTA Stage 1, KTA Stage 2, KTA Stage 3, Step 3.1
  • Evaluators can use diffusion theory to guide the formulation of research questions. (Guba [1967]; Bozeman [1988])
    Occurrence of finding within the model: KTA Step 3.F, KTA Step 6.F, KTA Step 7.F
  • When planning, implementing or evaluating a knowledge translation (innovation) process, diffusion theory suggests that one of the factors that can influence the appeal of new knowledge to a potential knowledge user is the timeframe over which they are expected to apply (adopt) the new knowledge. Initially, selective uptake can be common. [p41,para5] In many cases, a small set of the intended audience will apply (adopt) the new knowledge early in the process. Ideally, as more individuals become aware (exposed), the application (adoption) rate will increase, to the point of full implementation. (Damanpour [1991]; Wright & Charlett [1995]; Backer & Rogers [1998]; Scheirer [1990]; Mahajan & Peterson [1985]; Nutley et al. [2002]; Rogers [2003])
    Occurrence of finding within the model: KTA Step 3.B, KTA Step 6.B, KTA Step 7.A, KTA Step 3.C, KTA Step 6.C, KTA Step 7.B
  • When planning, implementing or evaluating a knowledge translation (innovation) process, diffusion theory suggests that one of the factors that can influence the process and outcome is the social system — the contextual space in which the knowledge is expected to be used (e.g., individual, institutional, political, and environmental factors). As one example, one set of factors that can determine how and if new knowledge will reach its intended audience are the characteristics of the institution involved (e.g., the degree to which power and control in an organization are concentrated in the hands of a few individuals, the availability of persons in the organization with a high degree of knowledge and expertise, the degree to which an organization stresses following rules and procedures, the interconnectedness of the organization in a social system, and the availability of slack resources to invest in the innovation). (Mohr [1969]; Moch [1977]; Kimberly [1981]; Abrahamson [1991])
    Occurrence of finding within the model: KTA Step 3.B, KTA Step 6.B, KTA Step 7.B
  • When planning, implementing or evaluating a knowledge translation (innovation) process, diffusion theory suggests that one of the factors that can influence the appeal of new knowledge to a potential knowledge user is how the new knowledge is communicated to the potential knowledge user — the effectiveness of communication channels used. As one example, early awareness-raising through interpersonal networks can enhance the speed of circulation and the social mechanisms that promote receptivity to the new knowledge. (Brown, [1968]; Van de Ven, Polley, Garud & Venkatarum, [1999]; Wejnert, [2002]; Valente, [1995]; Brink et. al, [1995].)
    Occurrence of finding within the model: Tip 3.7, KTA Tip 3.3, Step 2.2, Step 1.3, Step 1.1
  • When planning, implementing or evaluating a knowledge translation (innovation) process, diffusion theory suggests that one of the factors that can influence the appeal of new knowledge to a potential knowledge user is its clarity (absence of perceived or unnecessary complexity). Generally, adoption strength increases with the understandability and implementability of the new knowledge. ([Rogers, 2003])
    Occurrence of finding within the model: KTA Stage 1, KTA Stage 2, KTA Stage 3, Step 2.1, Step 1.3
  • When planning, implementing or evaluating a knowledge translation (innovation) process, diffusion theory suggests that one of the factors that can influence the appeal of new knowledge to a potential knowledge user is its trialability. Generally, adoption strength increases with the knowledge user’s ability to incrementally test the viability of the new knowledge prior to its full implementation. ([Rogers, 2003])
    Occurrence of finding within the model: Stage 8, Stage 9, Step 6.3
  • When planning, implementing or evaluating a knowledge translation (innovation) process, diffusion theory suggests that one of the factors that can influence the process and outcome is the social system — the contextual space in which the knowledge is expected to be used (e.g., individual, institutional, political, and environmental factors). As one example, one set of factors that can determine how and if new knowledge will reach its intended audience is the past history of potential knowledge users (e.g., previous practices, the felt needs or problems experienced, their innovativeness, and the norms of the social system in which they are embedded). ([Damanpour, 1991]; [Kimberly & Evanisko, 1981]; [Tornatzy & Fleischer, 1990]; [Wolfe, 1994]; [Brown, 1981]; [Mohr, 1969]; [Moch&Morse, 1977]; [Abrahamson, 1991])
    Occurrence of finding within the model: KTA Stage 1, KTA Stage 2, KTA Stage 3, Step 3.2, Step 2.2, Step 2.1, Step 1.2, Step 1.1
  • When planning, implementing or evaluating a knowledge translation (innovation) process, diffusion theory suggests that one of the factors that can influence the appeal of new knowledge to a potential knowledge user is its observability. Generally, adoption strength increases with the increased visibility of the new knowledge being applied and benefits demonstrated. ([Rogers, 2003])
    Occurrence of finding within the model: KTA Stage 1, KTA Stage 2, KTA Tip 3.3
  • When planning, implementing or evaluating a knowledge translation (innovation) process, diffusion theory suggests that one of the factors that can influence the appeal of new knowledge to a potential knowledge user is the compatibility of the new knowledge with respect to past practices, current values, and existing needs. Generally, adoption strength increases as the fit with the current context increases. ([Rogers, 2003])
    Occurrence of finding within the model: KTA Stage 1, KTA Stage 2, KTA Stage 3, Step 2.3, Step 3.2, Step 2.1, Step 1.3, Step 1.2

Measure: Evaluators can use diffusion theory to guide the design of measurement instruments. (Guba [1967]; Bozeman [1988])
Occurrence of finding within the model: KTA Step 3.F, KTA Step 6.F, KTA Step 7.F