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The endeavor to understand the introduction of a new idea, technology or innovation and the subsequent attempt to understand adoption of the targets is in vain unless the individual’s environment is in the equation. The Ecological Systems Theory brings in the concepts of the physical environment and social cultural influences. This theory is particularly important in the diffusion of innovation theory in that it expounds the idea of interpersonal communications. It proposes that a new idea or change influence the targets to multiple levels. The institutions proposing a change from the norm must identify key influencing factors within the interpersonal, intrapersonal, community, policy and organization for better results (Anuradha & Usha 2006).
This is a theory within the branch of communication that traces how ideas weave their way in a society after introduction. It receives close association with Everett Rogers. The social diffusion theory interrogates the process of spreading of new ideas, technology, information or innovations. The diffusion aspect is the manner in which information moves within a social structure. According to the theory, the society has a hierarchy of structures. The theory emanates from a television-funded research conducted in the 1950s to identify how a new broadcast reaches its targets. The theory postulates that innovations are similar to products and they spread better through distinction of levels. In the cases of advertising, the first target should be level one of early adopters. Then level two, also secondary spread by word of mouth, this level depends on the pace set by level one. The subsequent levels after secondary adopters follow the same process, and the previous step sets its pace (Davis 1997).
The theory is on the premise that the society comprises of a number of communication ways or platforms. The communication channels are the means of arriving at mutual understanding upon comprehension of concepts, facts and information. The initial introduction of an idea or information should be through a multimedia process. This has a channel of communication reaching a mass of people; its main aim is awareness creation. The second channel adopted after the multimedia is usually the interpersonal one. This channel has a personal touch, provides a platform for comparison and discussion, this is what pushes the target individual into a decision (Tenopir 2005).
However, the new idea or technology depends on a number of issues for acceptance. The nature of the idea in complexity or otherwise is crucial in acceptability. Complex ideas take much longer time before incorporation or adoption within a social hierarchy. This is due to difficulty or applicability and grasp of its aspects. The other factor is its allowance for trial usage; this helps shed fears and concerns of uncertainty. The theory as such encourages piece-meal adoption rather than a drastic overhaul approach. The most important aspect of acceptability of new ideas and their sustainability within a new system is compatibility. The theory views ideas incompatible with the existing norms, structures and believes as being easier to adopt and sustain (Breitzer & Fritz 2000).
There are time considerations before a new idea acquires certain levels of adaptation in a society. It takes time due to the pace at which different people adopt technology. The time taken as an idea moves from one level to another determines the pace of adoption. The idea moves within these levels until all are covered. Rogers modifies the ideas to highlight the four key elements of the diffusion theory; first is the presence of the new idea, then a provision for a communication channel through which the idea spreads, thirdly a non-spatial concept, time that indicates the span or time lapse before spread and lastly, a social system made up of interrelated units. The social units aim at problem solving and better methods of performing or doing (Snowhill 2001).
Rogers indicate that over 5200 applications of the diffusion theory exists to date in a vast number of fields. Its importance arises from its dissemination of ideas regarding adoption of innovations. It remains an indispensable part of any social unit considering innovations or introduction of new technology, ideas or methods. Research indicates that it is imperative to recognize that institutions and individuals change and desire for better change. At the same time, change is not always abrupt or speedy. The Diffusion of Innovation is invaluable in explaining the expectations, trends and reasons for some responses to technology (Helfer 2000).
The theory has its limitations too, this emanate from its applicability to many situations and professions. In the medical field for instance, the adoption of a new lifestyle and the behavioral change may be influenced by threat or fear and gives no time for lagged responses or late adoption. In the context of some institutions, diffusion theory may not match with the real outcomes due to long spans of time. Some innovations and ideas do not follow the theory postulations in the instance that the perceived effects of change are long-term. This may explain why companies and individuals approve but take long to implement good plans. The theory’s transplantation to other discipline may predict a general trend but err in the specifics. Additionally, diffusion is also subject to social-economic factors; wealthier individuals show high diffusion levels but poverty presents barriers that frustrate diffusion (Crawford 2000).