Theoretical Spotlight: Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations

Literature Review

A common area of struggle and confusion for students working on their dissertations is the theoretical framework portion. As such, in this Theoretical Spotlight blog series, we will cover the most popular theories we come across in our work with dissertation students. Please be aware that these are merely theory overviews and are in no way all encompassing. Hopefully, these overviews will help guide you in your dissertation by giving you some familiarity with major theories.

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Theory: Rogers’ (1962, 1983, 2010) Diffusion of Innovations (DOI)

Rogers’ DOI theory pertains to the spread and adoption of technology and ideas, particularly within organizations. According to Rogers, there are two key facets in DOI: the adoption process itself and the role of the adopters/innovators. There are five main components in regard to the adoption of the innovation, which include knowledge, persuasion, decision, implementation, and confirmation. Knowledge occurs when the potential adopter first encounters the innovation but is unsure of what it is and wants to know more. Persuasion is the following step, wherein the potential adopter overcomes their lack of knowledge and pursues further information regarding the innovation. Decision occurs when the adopter decides whether to move forward with adoption or drop the innovation altogether. Should the adopter continue, implementation occurs, wherein the adopter moves forward with a trial run of the innovation to see if it is worthwhile. The final stage is confirmation, which occurs when the adopter believes that the innovation is worthwhile and continues ahead.

As for adopters/innovators, Rogers believed these individuals fell into five categories: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. Innovators consist of individuals who are willing to take the risk of trying the new innovation, even though there may be a high chance of failure. Early adopters are individuals who look to the innovators and are willing to assume some risk in adopting the innovation. These individuals tend to be more reserved than the adopters and may back out of the innovation should it seem to be a failure. The early majority members are those who, after viewing the varying degrees of success between the innovators and early adopters, decide to invest in both the time and effort to adopt the new innovation. They are often considered the average of the group. The late majority will only adopt after a guaranteed measure of success among average innovation users due to skepticism of the innovation itself. The final category, the laggards, are individuals who are the last to adopt a new innovation, usually due to tradition, resistance to change, or fear of innovation failure despite previous successes.

This theory is best suited for studies on:

  • Technology
  • Organizational change
  • Business
  • Policy

Further reading:

De Vries, H., Bekkers, V., & Tummers, L. (2016). Innovation in the public sector: A systematic review and future research agenda. Public Administration, 94(1), 146-166.

Lundblad, J. P. (2003). A review and critique of Rogers’ diffusion of innovation theory as it applies to organizations. Organization Development Journal, 21(4), 50.

Rogers, E. M. (1962). Diffusion of innovations (1st ed.). New York: Free Press of Glencoe.

Rogers, E. M. (1983). Diffusion of innovations (3rd ed.). New York: Free Press of Glencoe.