Diffusion of innovations theory research examines the conditions which influence the likelihood that a new idea, product or practice will be adopted (Infante, Rancer, & Womack). There are five elements of diffusion theory: a) the characteristics of the innovation; b) the decision-making process that occurs when considering adoption; c) the characteristics of the potential adopters; d) the consequences of adopting and; e) communication channels used in the adoption process.
The theory states that certain people in society influence change and facilitate the adoption process. These people are referred to as opinion leaders, change agents, gatekeepers (Infante et al., 1997) and near peers (Rogers, 1986). As these social leaders accept and adopt ideas or practices, other members in that society begin to adopt. This also ties into previous research, which suggests that similarity amongst individuals enhances attraction and influence. Members of society view the leaders as similar, making adoption more likely.
The diffusion research defines adoption as a five-step process. The initial steps occur when an individual is first exposed to the information and then when he or she learns that a leader has already adopted it. These two steps can occur at the same time. The individual then has to decide whether or not to adopt it for him or herself. Once the decision to adopt is made, the implementation step occurs. The final step is the confirmation stage where the adopter analyzes the decision and decides to continue the adoption or eliminate it.
this area of communication research has expanded to consider the impacts
of mass media as well as interpersonal contacts. This multi-step
flow and diffusion approach argues that in addition to opinion leaders,
change agents, gatekeepers and near peers, the mass media has an influence
on an individualís decision to adopt. The literature also discusses criticisms
of diffusion theory. Pro-innovation bias implies that all members
of a social system should adopt innovations and adoption should happen
more quickly. It does not take into account the fact that diffusion
and adoption may fail because it was a bad idea to begin with. Tied to
this is individual blame bias. It suggests laggards or late adopters are
responsible for the failure to adopt, not taking into account possible
failures of the social system in the diffusion process. There is also a
recall problem in much of the diffusion research. Because self-report
measures are used to determine exactly when adoption took place, subject
recall of the exact time adoption took place is in question. Equality
gaps is another criticism of diffusion theory. This criticism suggests
that social gaps caused by such things as income and education hinder diffusion
and adoption and are not accounted for in the diffusion research (Rogers,