In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Diffusion of Innovations

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Role of Social System(s) in the Diffusion Process
  • Innovation Development Process
  • Potential Adopters
  • Initiation and Implementation Processes
  • Innovation Characteristics
  • Adopter Categories
  • Forms of Adoption
  • Consequences
  • Critiques

Communication Diffusion of Innovations
Ronald Rice
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 July 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0045


Diffusion is the process through which an innovation (an idea, product, technology, process, or service) spreads (more or less rapidly, in more or less the same form) through mass and digital media, and interpersonal and network communication, over time, through a social system, with a wide variety of consequences (positive and negative). Underlying the components of the diffusion process is the extent to which various actions, perceptions, communication processes and sources, social norms, and structures sufficiently reduce the potential adopter’s uncertainty regarding the innovation. Diffusion of Innovations theory is probably the most cited, summarized, and applied communication theory. By 2003, there were already over 5,000 publications in this area, with about 250 new ones each year. A search for “diffusion of innovations” (obviously a very constrained search set) in November 2010 found 1,329 articles in the CSA Social Science databases with the phrase in abstracts and 8,053 if anywhere in the document, over 300,000 entries through a general Google search, and 43,700 citations in Google Scholar. The Web of (Social) Science found 1,428 citations (from all sources) to E. M. Rogers alone. With so many publications, no annotated bibliography can do justice to the topic. At the same time, this also means there are many comprehensive and useful general overviews and tutorials on the theory and research. The following sections provide annotated citations for a very small set of publications on the major components of the diffusion of innovations model.

General Overviews

Several authors were beginning to integrate the disparate research on diffusion of innovations in the 1960s and 1970s. Brown 1981 reviewed three existing traditions. Of course, Rogers 2003 provides the most comprehensive explanation and review of the voluminous literature, while Rice 2009 condenses the main points into an integrated framework and indicates areas of extension. Greenhalgh 2005 summarizes research on health service innovations. Several edited books bring together state-of-the-art reviews. Fagerberg, et al. 2006 takes an interdisciplinary approach. Smith 2006 is a clear tutorial on the concept and process of innovation. Poole and Van de Ven 2004 places attention on the relationship of innovation to more general organizational process theories. Tushman and Anderson 1997 emphasizes the management approach, within historical contexts.

  • Brown, Lawrence A. 1981. Innovation diffusion: A new perspective. New York: Methuen.

    Brown identifies three traditions of innovation diffusion: cultural geography/anthropology, Hagerstrand’s mathematical modeling of spatial and interpersonal contacts, and market/infrastructure (emphasizing the supply, availability, and distributing and marketing of innovations). He emphasizes the supply side, distinguishes consumer from firm/technology innovations, includes the product life cycle, and brings attention to innovation consequences.

  • Fagerberg, Jan, David C. Mowery, and Richard R. Nelson, eds. 2006. The Oxford handbook of innovation. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199286805.001.0001

    The twenty-one chapters include a broad interdisciplinary range of approaches to understanding innovation. The four sections cover creation of innovations (especially by firms and networks); contextual, institutional, and organizational influences on innovation; variations in innovation across economic sectors and time; and consequences of innovation (focusing on economic and competitive aspects).

  • Greenhalgh, Trisha. 2005. Diffusion of innovations in health service organisations: A systematic literature review. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470987407

    The first half of this book reviews the components and concepts of diffusion of innovations theory. Then it systematically reviews, using both individual studies and meta-analyses, specific innovations in health service practice and organization, highlighting implications for dissemination and implementation. The analyses use mixed methods.

  • Poole, Marshall Scott, and Andrew H. Van de Ven, eds. 2004. Handbook of organizational change and innovation. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    The primary focus of the thirteen chapters in this edited book is on concepts and methods for developing and evaluating organizational process theories, integrating both levels of analysis (from the individual to the nation) and time (change and process).

  • Rice, Ronald E. 2009. Diffusion of innovations: Theoretical extensions. In SAGE handbook of media effects. Edited by Robin L. Nabi and Mary Beth Oliver, 489–503. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    This chapter proposes an integrated model of central components of the diffusion of innovations perspective, and reviews multidisciplinary literature across those components: overview and history, communication, social systems, innovation development, potential adopters, initiation and implementation, innovation characteristics, adopter categories, forms of adoption, diffusion over time, consequences, and critiques.

  • Rogers, Everett M. 2003. Diffusion of innovations. 5th ed. New York: Free Press.

    The best source for understanding Diffusion of Innovations theory and research. The chapters cover elements of diffusion, history, contributions and critiques, generating innovations, innovation-decision process, innovation attributes, adopter categories, diffusion networks, change agents (individuals and agencies), organizational innovation, and consequences. Includes many case examples and research results.

  • Smith, David. 2006. Exploring innovation. London: McGraw-Hill.

    An overview of innovation: nature (types, the nature of technological change), activities (innovation theories, innovation sources, intellectual property), managing (technology strategy, entrepreneurs, funding, organizing for innovation), and fostering (innovation policy, innovation clusters, and national innovation systems). This is designed particularly for undergraduate management and business programs, with a British emphasis.

  • Tushman, Michael, and Philip Anderson, eds. 1997. Managing strategic innovation and change: A collection of readings. 2d ed. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    The forty-two chapters discuss the evolution of technologies within historical contexts, and how that generates organizational change and adaptation. Sections include overview, technology cycles, discontinuous innovations, dominant designs, incremental change, organizational architectures/change culture, temporal and historical perspectives, innovation and strategy, learning/intellectual capital, internal and cross-organizational linkages, and leadership/managing innovation.

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