Diffusing Education R&Amp;D Innovations to School Organizations


Stanley H. L. Chow, Linda A. Sikorski, and C. L. Hutchins (1975) ,"Diffusing Education R&Amp;D Innovations to School Organizations", in SV - Broadening the Concept of Consumer Behavior, eds. Gerald Zaltman and Brian Sternthal, Cincinnati, OH : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 95-105.

Broadening the Concept of Consumer Behavior, 1975      Pages 95-105


Stanley H. L. Chow, Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development, San Francisco, California

Linda A. Sikorski, Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development, San Francisco, California

C. L. Hutchins, Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development, San Francisco, California

Much of the criticism leveled at education in general, and at educational research and development in particular, focuses on the apparent meager impact of innovations on improvement in educational practice. In 1969, Gideonse wrote:

"We have not yet been able to collect very good evidence on the impact of specific research and development activities on educational practice and, where such evidence has been collected, it has generally tended to demonstrate rather low level of effect."

Indeed, very little significant change has occurred. Explanations of this phenomenon are numerous. Some observers point to the nature of the public school institution as the key to its inability to change. Public schools comprise a virtual monopoly with a clientele which is assured, 'regardless of its satisfaction with the services the schools render (Pincus, 1974). The implication is that schools do not feel compelled to take on the risks of innovation. Yet schools are not entirely unresponsive. A dissatisfied community can be a constant irritant for the harried school administrator. As Pincus (1974) points out, it is politically unwise for schools to take on an unresponsive posture. He cites Lindeman et al.(1969) to support the point that schools tend to adopt innovations that carry minimal real costs without sacrificing bureaucratic safety; widely adopted innovations in the 60's included teacher aides, ability groupings, movable partitions, and TV instruction--none of which require substantial organizational change.

As a corollary to the notion of public schools as a virtual monopoly, Carlson (1965) signals the lack of a "change agent" role built into the existing school institution. More specifically, although various administrators and teachers tend to assume the innovator or change agent role, there is no formal position as such. In contrast, industrial institutions are constantly looking for new ideas for new products. Research and development in industrial institutions is a critical component for survival in a competitive environment.

Education also suffers from what Sieber (1967) calls "goal diffuseness"; that is, there is no clear consensus about the desired outcomes of education and the priorities to be assigned to these outcomes. It is difficult to address the problem of determining means to educational goals when the goals themselves are ill defined and poorly articulated. Even if these goals are operationally defined and alternative methods for achieving them are specified, it is often difficult to demonstrate and measure the efficacy of one instructional approach over another. As Pincus points out, "we don't know what the educational production function is, or even if there is one . . . we are often unsure whether one method of providing school services is consistently better in terms of output efforts, however defined, than any other method" (Pincus, 1974, p. 114).

However, most other explanations of the lack of impact of educational innovations on practice improvement tend to focus on the lack of know-how for diffusing and installing them in schools. (See for example, Carlson, 1967; Turnbull et al., 1974; Rosenau, 1974.) In the past, educational R&D has generally focused on improving product design and demonstrating its efficacy in field tests. Little or no attention has been given to the implications of product diffusion during the developmental life span of products. The resulting anomaly is that, although a given product may have demonstratable effectiveness and usefulness, it may fail to reach practitioners. Turnbull et al. (1974) have cited examples of successful innovations that are diffusion failures: for example, a mistargeted drug education program and products too expensive for the average school to purchase. Some products do not provide sufficient implementation guidance and support (Pincus, 1974; Turnbull et AL, 1974). The introduction of innovations often requires adjustments within the adopting agency. once these initial adjustments are made, the innovation frequently requires a certain period of debugging time before it is fully operational. Unfortunately this kind of implementation guidance and support is seldom provided.

The intent of this paper is to provide a conceptual framework for examining the current state of knowledge on planning diffusion efforts and to suggest further areas of research. We present a framework consisting of three dimensions--the innovation, the user, the diffusion strategy-which are critical to the diffusion process. The impact of innovations can be optimized, in our opinion, by studying innovative behavior in the context of variables relating to these dimensions. For each of these variable sets, the research literature is uneven, probably because it has ignored the social/institutional nature of schools and has treated the innovative process as though it were similar to mass consumer behavior where the individual has relative autonomy in responding to single messages about relatively simple products. Furthermore, diffusion strategies may be ineffective because they are not applied differentially for different innovations and different subgroups of target users. In other words, optimal payoff may be achieved by examining the interaction of user characteristics, innovation attributes, and diffusion strategies, as they relate to innovative behavior and as they are influenced by environmental constraints.

In the remainder of this paper, empirical work relating to each dimension is reviewed and analysis and recommendations regarding new directions and emphases for future educational diffusion research are suggested.

User Characteristics Dimension

The unevenness of diffusion research in education is evident when one examines what has been reported in the literature regarding the user of educational innovations. Studies dealing with diffusion of educational innovations have traditionally focused on this one dimension--and, more precisely, on the characteristics of individual users. Historically, the direction of educational diffusion research stems from what has occurred previously in the fields of agriculture, medical sociology, and industry. Diffusion studies in these fields have been concerned with innovations where the consumer is the individual adopter. For example, an individual farmer or doctor was the adopting unit for a new seed corn or a new drug. With this perspective, educational diffusion studies have also chosen the individual as the unit of analysis. Studies in education, with the exception of work by Mort and his associates (1964), have focused on characteristics of the innovative teacher (Jenkins, 1967; Lin, et al.,-1966; Lippitt, 1967; Rogers & Shoemaker, 1971; Zimmerman, 1970), the innovative principal ( Currie, 1966, Goetz, 1965; Griffiths, 1963; Hinman, 1967), and the innovative superintendent (Carlson, 1964; Henderson, 1968; Klingenberg, 1966; Lawrence, 1968). Table I illustrates the type of individual user characteristic variables employed by different researchers and the way those have been found to relate to innovativeness.

These studies have limited utility, however, since few products from the educational research and development community are amenable to adoption by individuals alone. The Wisconsin R&D Center, for example, has developed an organizational system for elementary schools that replaces the traditional, self-contained classrooms with larger non-graded units. No one teacher can make the decision to adopt such a product. A teacher-training program, called Minicourses., developed by the Far West Laboratory, requires teacher release time for short microteaching sessions where a teacher evaluates her own performance on videotape. This innovation is not easily adopted by a single school, and certainly not by a single individual. Even if educational administrators adopt this product, there is no assurance that teachers will implement it.

These innovations and many others require adjustment of organizational behavior patterns, reallocation of staff and resources, and even organizational restructuring. The initiation, adoption, implementation, and maintenance of such innovations require group consensus and group action. For this reason, it is important to examine the organizational dynamics of schools as they relate to decision-making and to postulate organizational variables as a major set of independent variables influencing both the rate and the amount of adoption of educational innovations. This refocusing does not discredit the role of the individual. Indeed, in five in-depth case studies, Havelock (1974) found that the process starts with germination and advocacy, usually by one person. We know that certain gatekeepers within school organizations may exercise great influence.


However, the individual's influence is limited or enhanced by his role in the adopting organization. This point is empirically supported in studies described by Baldridge (1974). In addition, depending on the innovation in question, the unit of adoption and hence the unit of measurement may very often be the organizational unit within the educational market rather than the individual educator.

Various investigators have called for research on the organization as the adoption unit. (See, for example, Carlson, 1967; Baldridge Burnham,, 1973; Baldridge, 1974). Nevertheless, studies examining organizational variables have been rare in comparison to studies on individual variables. To add to the problem, many investigators appear as unpublished dissertations or as final reports submitted to funding agencies. The studies that do exist have reported rather modest findings. They suggest that the following organizational variables may be promising: per capita expenditure (Carlson, 1965; Mort, 1964), size of the adopting unit (Baldridge & Burnham, 1974), participation in decision-making (Lin, et al., 1966; Schmuck et al., 1971), amount of contact (Fullan & Eastabrook, 1970; Klingenberg, 1966; Scarbaugh & Hawkins, 1973), and open climate of schools (Eibler, 1965; Marcum, 1968). More recently, Baldridge (1974) has suggested that size and complexity are important organizational variables.

It is evident that we need to refine and elaborate this set of organizational variables if we are to develop one that can be shown to be powerful in predicting innovative behavior. The literature on innovative organizations also suggests some variables (e.g., structural characteristics, organizational autonomy, etc.,) that are related to innovative behavior. However, it is still to be demonstrated that they pertain in educational settings.

Innovation Attributes Dimension

The relationship of innovation attributes to innovative behavior is another concern which should be addressed by educational diffusion research.

The importance of attributes of innovations has been demonstrated in various contexts. Rogers and Shoemaker (1971) discuss five attributes of innovations derived from a number of diffusion research traditions, such as rural sociology and medical sociology. These attributes--compatibility, complexity, divisibility, communicability, and relative advantage--are also useful in discussing educational innovations, but their level of abstraction makes them difficult to operationalize, particularly in relation to innovations as complicated as many of those in education.

Lin and Zaltman (1973) have culled a list of attributes reported by the diffusion literature. Their list is far more specific, and thus is more useful for depicting a complex educational innovation. For example, the Lin and Zaltman list specifies at least four kinds of financial cost (initial, maintenance, equipment; and debugging costs), each of which warrants consideration as having possible explanatory significance. Thus one might employ the Lin and Zaltman attribute list to operationalize the more general one provided by Rogers and Shoemaker. For example, such attributes as visibility and demonstratability reported by Lin and Zaltman are probably components of communicability, reported by Rogers and Shoemaker.

Educational research has contributed little to knowledge regarding the effects of those attributes on the process of educational innovation. Zaltman and Cooke (private communication, 1973) took an early step in choosing from the Lin and Zaltman list those items with the greatest relevance to educational innovations, including various cost factors, organizational input factors, efficiency factors, time factors, factors related to reliability, and others.

As far as we know, little has been done to determine whether and how such attributes affect user decisions concerning innovations in education. one reason may be the sheer number of attributes which should be considered. The Zaltman and Cooke list includes 16 categories and 68 attributes. Each of these may take on varying importance, depending on the particular innovation and the situation in question. Another reason may be that educational innovations are extremely heterogeneous, ranging from new textbooks to new organizational arrangements. Attributes which are critical to user acceptance of one innovation may be unimportant or irrelevant for others. However, the number and heterogeneity of educational innovations only underscore the potential usefulness of a generic list of innovation attributes that depict all relevant dimensions of educational R&D products. Such a list may be more easily compiled if a taxonomy of educational products is developed that is comparable to classification schemes traditionally used in marketing.

The main reasons for adopting the notion of product categories is that it reduces the heterogeneity of products under consideration and makes diffusion strategies applicable to all products within the same product category. The basis for categorizing educational innovations remains relatively unexplored. For example, some initial steps may be taken to group innovations according to categories such as:. differences in target audience, curricular versus organizational innovations, and vertical versus horizontal innovations (single subject-multiple grades versus multiple subjects-single grade). An interesting approach to determining the basis for categorization is provided by Sikorski et al. (1974). An exploratory study was conducted to discern discrepancies between demands of innovations and users' readiness to accept them. These discrepancies are used as the basis for categorizing innovations. We feel that the concept of product categories is a viable one in that it provides the opportunity to examine a variety of innovations and to target diffusion efforts aimed at users without significant loss of information.

Diffusion Strategy Dimensions

The selection of appropriate diffusion strategies for educational products has been problematic, and the set of variables relevant to this problem comprise the third dimension of our triad of research priorities.

The literature provides a number of conceptual guides for categorizing change or diffusion strategies. Chin and Benne (1972) propose a scheme based on how receivers may be motivated to change; they classify strategies as empirical-rational, normative-re-educative, and power-coercive. Similar schemes are proposed by Zaltman (1973) and Jones(1973). Some schemes pertain more directly to how potential adopters can be manipulated. Guba's (1967) typology includes a value strategy, a rational strategy, a didactic strategy, a psychological strategy, an economic strategy, a political strategy, and an authority strategy. Still others categorize strategies according to sequences of behaviors observed to result in change. Through factor analysis, Havelock (1974) developed five factors which provide models of change: the problem-solver perspective, the RD&D perspective, strategic manipulation, open advocacy and humane dialect, and financial capacity. other categorization schemes are suggested in the work of Sieber (1967), Katz & Kahn (1966), and Bennis (1965).

Though such conceptual schemes are useful for delimiting and clarifying what is meant by a change or diffusion strategy, they have been of limited utility to the educational planner or change agent confronted with the problem of finding efficacious ways to diffuse R&D innovations. Most innovations and innovation-environments relate meaningfully to more than one of the categories of any such scheme. The change agent frequently finds himself considering alternative diffusion strategies without much basis for predicting the success of either or any of them.

At least one investigator has made an attempt to catalogue tactics and strategies in more concrete terms, to provide the change agent with more usable guidelines. Rosenau's (1974) "topoi" of change-agent tactics assigns tentative costs and probabilities of effectiveness to a number of the dissemination tactics available to educators. This kind of effort serves a real need. However, it suffers the flaw of being a posteriori to the development efforts. Ideally, consideration of strategy should occur before the product is fully developed. In this instance, education might borrow an application from marketing. Marketing entails identifying consumer needs, and planning a coordinated set of products and programs to serve those needs (Kotler, 1972). The form any particular product takes and the strategy used to disseminate it should be shaped at a very early stage as part of an overall plan to met needs. This is an approach or perspective which is fairly new for educational R&D; it is encouraging, however, to see that a requirement by funding sources for early dissemination planning is becoming more frequent.

In designing diffusion strategies, we should not lose sight of the intended diffusion objectives. Often in education, diffusion objectives have been narrowly defined as adoption of educational innovations. The outcome of diffusion efforts may be viewed in two broad stages: an initiation (adoption) stage and an implementation stage (Zaltman et al., 1973). During the initiation stage, the user becomes aware of the existence of an innovation, consolidates his interest in pursuing it, formulates positive attitudes about it, and finally decides to make some commitments to take some action, such as making a small purchase. During the implementation stage, the user makes attempts to implement the innovation on a trial basis. If the trial experience is satisfying, the user may continue with the innovation, implement it in full, and finally institutionalize t. Diffusion efforts may then be considered as maximizing initiation and implementation of educational innovations. Initiation is a necessary condition for implementation; however, we expect a large attrition among the potential audience as they move from initiation to implementation, since commitments to implement innovation do not necessarily lead to actual implementation or sustained utilization. The diffusion agent must reckon with that natural attrition and establish differential expectancies for these objectives.

This breakdown of diffusion outcomes is also useful when one considers strategies available to the diffusion agent. In our opinion, it provides a framework with minimal overlap of strategies. Diffusion strategies appropriate for bringing about initiation are necessarily concerned with persuasion; the diffusion agent needs to create awareness, consolidate interest, strengthen motivations, and assure installation. On the other hand, user concerns at the implementation stage are quite different. The latter concerns deal more directly with necessary assistance in the form of consultation and training in order to manage the daily operation of the innovation so as to ensure its success. Therefore, strategies that optimize initiation may be ineffectual for implementation, and vice versa. Admittedly.- there will be some overlap of strategies; certain strategies may be effectively used for both initiation and implementation outcomes. Even in such cases, however, the focal audiences for common initiation and implementation strategies are disparate.


Planning for the diffusion of educational innovations involves an examination of the interactions of user characteristics, innovation attributes, and diffusion strategies as they relate to innovative organizational behavior and as these variables are influenced by environmental constraints impinging upon the school organization. Future research will hopefully isolate these interaction effects and thus enable the educational planner to target properly his diffusion efforts so as to reduce the lag between educational R&D output and improvement of educational practice. More specifically, it is suggested that research should focus on the nature of the school organization as an adopting unit, examine educational innovations categorized according to significant attributes, and give more careful consideration to educational diffusion goals.


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Stanley H. L. Chow, Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development, San Francisco, California
Linda A. Sikorski, Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development, San Francisco, California
C. L. Hutchins, Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development, San Francisco, California


SV - Broadening the Concept of Consumer Behavior | 1975

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