How Individuals Come to Accept Change and Adopt Innovations
Full acceptance and adoption rarely come when an individual first learns about an innovation. A person reaches the decision to adopt by a very complex process, but we have learned through research that this process usually follows a predictable pattern. The time period required to reach adoption can be broken down and described in terms of "phases." These adoption phases can be used as a guide for the change agent in planning activities to extend the innovation and its impact to more members of the client system and indeed to other clients and client systems as well. After describing each phase briefly, we will point out the types of activity which the change agent can best employ during each adoption phase to facilitate individual acceptance of the innovation.
In this age of instant mass communication, in which electronic messages can be transmitted around the world in nano-seconds, in which many people are tied in to and communicate via the Internet, it may appear that innovations can be adopted instantly. This may be true for some types of information for which an audience is already primed. For example, the results of a Presidential election are readily communicated to and accepted by a mass audience because there have been days or months of preparatory information dissemination including who the candidates are, what they say and stand for, what their opponents say, what various public opinion polls say, etc. However, as we move up the scale of information complexity, as we also move up the scales of self-relevance and behavioral commitment, the word "adoption" takes on an entirely different meaning. This is the world that the change agent must understand and act upon. The would-be "adopter" must travel through a sequence of learning stages similar to the seven stages of the Guide.
Researchers studying the diffusion of innovations have identified six phases in the process of individual adoption of an "innovation," here defined as any artifact or practice that is entirely new to the person receiving it. These stages are: "awareness," "interest," "evaluation," "trial," "adoption," and "integration."
During the initial "awareness" stage, the individual is exposed to the innovation and becomes aware of it. As yet he or she has only a passive interest and is not necessarily motivated to seek further information. The way in which the innovation is presented at the beginning may well determine whether or not the potential user is stimulated enough to move on to the second and subsequent stages.
The "interest" stage is characterized by active information seeking about the innovation. Although there is a generally open attitude toward the innovation, at this stage, potential users have not made a judgment as to whether or not the innovation would be suitable for their own particular circumstances. As they gather more information and learn more about the innovation, the first positive or negative attitudes toward it begin to emerge. These feelings may prompt the user to decide against adoption, or they may motivate the user to move on to the next phase in the adoption process.
The third stage, "evaluation," is generally described as a period of "mental trial" of the innovation, a necessary preliminary to the decision to make a "behavioral trial". Before individuals can assume an accepting attitude toward the change, they need to mentally apply the innovation to their own situation and then decide whether or not it is worth the effort to actually try it. You, the change agent, together with your first client, have already made the mental and the behavioral trial in Stage 4. Now, to extend the innovation to others, you will have to somehow take these new users on a mental journey through the same stages that you have already followed to get to that trial, e.g., sifting through the alternatives, selecting the best, based on certain criteria, and making a test application this time in a sort of mental simulation.
In the "trial" stage, individuals use the innovation on a small scale in order to find out how it will actually work in their own situation. An alternative method of conducting a trial is to use the innovation on a temporary or probationary basis before moving on to true adoption.
In the "adoption" stage, the results of the trial are weighed and considered and, on the basis of this post-trial evaluation, the decision is made to adopt, or reject, the innovation.
Even when a favorable decision is made, however, true adoption cannot be considered to have taken place unless and until use of the innovation becomes routine. It must be integrated into the day-to-day working life of the teacher, or the administrator, or the user, whoever he or she may be.
Many researchers in many different fields have done sound empirical research on the diffusion of innovations. See in particular the writings of Everett M. Rogers for an excellent and readable synthesis of these studies, which number in the thousands. The findings, which are reflected in this chapter on "extending," are remarkably consistent across such fields as agriculture, legislative decision-making, medicine, education, public health, and third-world development.
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