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9.3: Innovations

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    Everett Rogers’ seminal work the Diffusion of Innovations (2003) first appeared in 1962, and he produced multiple versions and editions in the following decades. Throughout the history of the work Rogers sought to understand how innovations (new ways of action or new tools) are communicated (through various channels) over time to the members of a social system. Rogers found the similarities in the characteristics of adopters and in the factors describing the diffusion in a wide range of organizations, industries, and cultures. Scholars continue to use diffusion of innovation as a model for framing data collection and interpreting results. His observations and theory provides several useful frameworks for efficacious IT managers in schools.

    The Nature of Innovations

    According to Rogers, the rate at which an innovation is adopted by a group is affected by four factors. First, the users must become aware of the innovation and perceive the ideas, tools, or practices as different from those currently in use. In the world dominated by rapid advances in information and other technology, it is easy to assume innovations must be based on things that did not exist previously. Rogers confirms anything that is unfamiliar can be an innovation. How an innovation is perceived is determined by its relative advantage, compatibility with existing practices, complexity, and demonstrability. In general, innovations that diffuse are those that help one improve performance in a meaningful and efficient way, that are easy to use, and that users can try on a limited basis and the results can be shared with others.

    Many educators are familiar with seeming cyclic nature of educational reforms and pedagogies advocates claim are innovative. This can lead cynical curmudgeonly teachers—a group which occasionally includes the author when faced with leaders whose credibility, competent, and sensibility is dubious—to remind others “we used to do this years ago.”

    Second, diffusion of innovation requires communication, and that communication can occur through various types of channels. Mass media, a channel marked by a single person or group communicating the same message to a large audience, and it can be an effective method for introducing innovations to a community. Increasingly, social media and professional learning networks that are maintained and cultivated with digital tools are replacing mass media as a method of communicating innovations. This is one reason those with greater networks have greater political power in organizations that seek to be innovative. The diffusion of innovation typically involves interpersonal communication between dyads or small groups within the social system.

    Third, innovations occur within a social system or community comprising members who seek to accomplish a particular goal. Some innovations are designed to accomplish essential aspects of the social system; these can be implemented by authoritarian fit. Others are designed to affect optional aspects of the social system, and these are adopted largely though social influences. Within the social system, there will be leaders whose opinions and perceptions matter to others and there are various types of decisions that are made. Venktash et al. (2003) noted social influences are a factor directly associated with the decision to use technology, thus individuals perceived to be influential are of particular important when leaders seek to diffuse technological innovations. Social systems, we know, comprise structural, human resource, political, and symbolic frames, and how an innovation affects each frame contributes to rate it diffuses and the extent to which it diffuses.

    Fourth, the diffusion of innovations is characterized by time. The rate at which individuals within the social system adopt an innovation defines four groups that are considered in the next section. The time necessary for an individual to adopt an innovation depends on the delays between learning of an innovation until the decision is made to adopt it and then to actually implement it. In some situations, individuals may be locked-in to other methods because of investments in time, money, or other resources; or for political or symbolic reasons.

    Rogers and others have observed that some innovations are discontinued after they enter a social system. Reasons for discontinuation vary, but replacement by another innovation is common; innovation researchers recognize that an innovative tool, practice, or idea will become traditional practices, which is later replaced by a different innovation. (In education, these innovations often return after a generation of disuse. My grandfather and I used to talk about innovative new science teaching methods that I was using. We found many similarities between those he adopted during his career in the classroom and those I was adopting. We both were active in our professions and had spent summers attending workshops to learn “the innovative new teaching methods.”)

    Users may discontinue using an innovation when they become disenchanted with it, especially when they do not produce the outcomes promised by advocates. Cuban (1986) noted this was a reason teachers discontinued to use radio, television, and movies as they emerged in the 20th century. Disenchantment can also rise when innovations prove to be unsafe or when other unforeseen and unintended consequences threaten the effectiveness of the innovation.

    Stages of Adoption

    Once an innovation enters a community, and begins to diffuse, its adoption occurs as the populations accepts it, and this can be explained in a very predictable way. A small number of individuals are responsible for introducing the innovation and those that prove more efficacious, effective, and efficient tend to diffuse through organizations through five different stages. The characteristics of those who adopt an innovation at each stage have also been documented by Roger and others. Two types of lines are used to describe and quantify the diffusion of an innovation, a bell curve illustrates the number of individuals who are in each of five stages of adoption and an s-curve is used to illustrate the part of the population that has adopted the innovation (see Figure 8.3.1).

    Screenshot 2020-04-28 at 20.03.04.png

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Stages of innovation illustrated

    Innovators comprise the first 2.5% of the population of the social system to begin using a new tool or practice or to accept an idea. Individuals in this group tend to be widely connected to others outside the social system or community, thus have greater exposure to new ideas and tools; in the digital world, innovators may be widely dispersed and use digital tools and social networks to maintain their networks. In addition, these individuals tend to have resources that can be dedicated to experimentation with innovations and the individuals are open to taking the risks associated with adopting ineffective or inefficient innovations that do not gain acceptance. This group is illustrated on the far left of Figure 8.3.1.

    Early adopters are the next 13.5% of the population to adopt an innovation. Whereas innovators tend to be highly connected outside of an organization or population (thus they are the conduits for an innovation to enter it), early adopters are more highly connected and respected within the organization or population. Innovators seek to identify those who are likely to be early adopters, as those innovations accepted by this group are likely to diffuse more quickly because these individuals exert significant social pressure on others. In addition to vetting the changes introduced by innovators, early adopters become change agents as they become a model for others to follow and they demonstrate the applicability of an innovation.

    Members of the early majority are the first adopters that are considered followers as they are the first to follow the example of the early adopters. Rogers quotes Alexander Pope who wrote in 1711, “Be not the first by whom the new is tried, nor the last to lay the old aside” to describe this type of user. All adopters proceed from awareness of the innovation through knowledge of the innovation to the decision to adopt it. The early majority tends to take longer than earlier adopters to become aware of an innovation, but once they have knowledge of it from credible early adopters, they tend to make the decision to adopt the innovation.

    The second half of the users to adopt an innovation is divided into two groups. For statistical reasons, the late majority comprises 34% of the users and the final 16% of the adopters are the late adopters. Once the majority of the population is using an innovation, the late majority adopters yield to increasing expectations that the innovation be used. They also cite practical reasons, including economic factors and decreasing access to traditional tools, when making the decision to adopt an innovation. In many cases, these users adopt an innovation only after the remaining uncertainties over the effectiveness and acceptance of an innovation are removed.

    Rogers and others have used the term laggards to describe the later adopters. This group tends to retain the traditional tools, practices, and ideas until all other options have been removed. While this group tends to be relatively closed, tending to communicate with others in the group who are later adopters also, the reasons for the later adoption of innovation be this group derive from any factors. Rogers does recognize the tendency in many organizations to blame the individuals who are the last to adopt an innovation, but he criticizes that approach as important factors related to the organization can be understood by studying the rationale given by later adopters for their delay.

    Leaders who seek to sustain innovations within their organizations should analyze later adopters and their rationale for not adopting earlier as this can indicate system-wide problems with structure, communication, or implementation that should be resolved. Bolman and Deans’ (2008) structural, human, resources, political and symbolic frames can provide a framework for understand these adoption decisions. In some cases, it is the characteristics of the individuals which led to laggardly adoptions, but in many cases, there are other factors (especially those beyond the control of the later adopters) that affected their knowledge, decisions, or ability to implement an innovation. Understanding these will both help sustain innovations and allow the leaders to more quickly diffuse other innovations.

    Innovations within Organization

    The diffusion of innovations has been studied in both formal and informal populations. Among the examples that Rogers used often in his books were farmers. Innovations in farming practice tend to diffuse through social systems of farmers who grow similar crops in similar environments, and adoption rates are affected by many both market factors and production factors as well as the degree to which one is locked in. A farmer who has recently purchased a machine that is aligned with a traditional practice is unlikely to discard it for an innovative practice until the new machine has generated sufficient income. Likewise, a school that had purchased a new student information system and has migrated data to it and trained users in using it are unlikely to abandon it for an innovative new system until very compelling reasons are obvious.

    Organizations are characterized by specific purposes and it achieves its purpose through specific role that are assigned to members, organizational and authoritarian structures, and both formal and informal rules and practices. As described in the previous section, organizations can be deconstructed into four frames which affect how they accomplish their goals and how it responds to change.

    Rogers defined organizational innovativeness in terms of the speed at which an innovation diffuses through an organization. The faster the adoption rate, the more innovative the organization. He also found eight factors that affect organizations innovativeness; six are positively associated and two are inversely associated.

    Given that autonomy is known to be a factor continuing to member’s motivation and participation to adopt innovation, it is unsurprising to learn Rogers finds centralize management and high levels of formalized processes to be negatively associated with the adoption of innovations within organizations. In addition to being an obstacle to the entry of innovations into an organization, centralized management and formalized processes slow adoption as the single entities responsible for approving changes become a bottleneck where the diffusion of innovations slow.

    It is perhaps not surprising that leaders’ attitudes towards change is positively associated with organizations innovation. Those leaders who are more accepting of innovations are more likely to both seek out innovations, become an active advocate for them, and make decisions and delegate authority in a manner that that contributes to the more rapid diffusion of innovations within the organization. Further, members of the organization who have a positive attitude towards change will find fewer reasons to avoid innovations, thus they quickly adopt them which increases organizational innovativeness. Hiring such individuals (and providing mentors to those who are not) becomes a human resources strategy that can increase the diffusion of innovations.

    Interconnectedness and openness are variations on the same characteristic; each determines the availability and use of channels of communication. Organizations with connections to the outside are open and those with deep interpersonal connections within the organization are interconnected. Both of these contribute to the communication that is essential to the diffusion of innovations as they are more likely to enter an open organization and diffuse through an interconnected one.

    Slack is a measure of the resources within an organization that are not committed to other purposes. Financial, personnel, and other resources that can be used to support innovation, thus increasing the capacity for diffusion of innovations and the development of expertise.

    Complexity is in interesting factor. Organizations comprising individuals with greater expertise and knowledge in their area tend to be more complex, and innovations tend to enter those organizations through those individuals. In general, greater complexity is associated with greater organizational innovation. Size is also an interesting factor associated with organizations innovativeness. Larger and more complex organizations tend to have greater formalized procedures and centralized structures which decrease innovation. Despite this, Rogers found larger organizations to be more innovative, others (for example Laforet, 2016) have found small organizations to be more innovative.

    Even in those organizations in which the characteristics positively associated with the diffusion of innovations are observed, leaders tend to follow a consistent procedure when selecting those innovations to pursue and implementing innovations, and five processes characterize this work:

    • Agenda-setting;
    • Matching;
    • Restructuring;
    • Clarifying;
    • Routinizing.

    As listed, these represent the chronological order in which innovations diffusion through organizational practice, but in the most innovative organizations, these processes tend to be blurred and the progression is not always linear.

    Agenda-setting is the process of identifying a problem within and organization and determining that it is going to receive the attention of leaders and a solution will be designed and implemented. Because organizations have a purpose which is embodied in the strategic goal, the problems that are solved through innovation are directly related to the degree to which the purpose of met (or not met). Problems typically emerge from the organization’s purpose and may be defined so the organization gains competitive advantage, addresses an unmet need among clients, or otherwise expands its reach or improves its performance. Implicit in the agenda setting is that some aspect of the organization will be changed. In most organizations, agenda-setting occurs within the political frame, and only those situations recognized by the most powerful leaders receive the attention or members or the financial resources of the organization.

    Matching is undertaken to ensure the innovation meets the needs of the organization. In some cases, new ideas or new tools are produced by manufacturers or publishers and incorporating those into the organization becomes a priority, despite the fact the need did not exist before the innovation was produced by others. Mobile phones are the quintessential example; until they were invented and became used by a critical mass of individuals, the devices did not focus innovation. Now, mobile devices have led to many innovations in products, processes, and services. Innovators, the first 2.5 % of a population to adopt it, play an important role in finding and introducing innovations to organizations and finding those that may match problems identified in agenda setting.

    Restructuring is the process whereby the innovation is customized to fit the needs and the existing structures (and human resources, politics, and symbolism) of the organization. In some instances, this requires modifying the innovation so the tool, practice, or idea more closely aligns with the existing organization; and in other instances, it requires the organization adapt to reflect the capacity of the innovation. Through either approach, restructuring assures a match between the innovation and the operation of the organization.

    No matter how careful and attentive the restructuring process is, there will be gaps the in the implementation of the innovation. Anticipated improvements will not be realized and unexpected consequences will emerge, so leaders will support the clarification of innovation, and this also includes both adapting the organization to the innovation and adapting the innovation to the organization.

    Once innovations are tuned to the needs and structures of the organization, they become a part of the routine. Once completely routinized, innovations are no longer innovations and they become the traditional practice and tools that are replaced by new innovations.


    9.3: Innovations is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Anonymous.


    9.3: Innovations is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Gary Ackerman.

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