Title: Diffusion and Innovation Theory: Past, Present, and Future Contributions to Academia and Practice


  • Richard Baskerville, Georgia State University
  • Debora Bunker, The University of Sydney Business School
  • Johan Olaisen, BI Norwegian Business School
  • Jan Pries-Heje, Roskilde University
  • Tor. J. Larsen, BI Norwegian Business School
  • E. Burton Swanson, UCLA Anderson School of Management


The field of information systems (IS) has throughout its history experienced extensive changes in technology, re-search, and education. These renewals will continue into the foreseeable future (Galliers and Currie 2011). It is rec-ognized that IS is a key force in the ongoing societal and organizational renewal and change (Baskerville and My-ers 2002; Davis 2000; Kebede 2010). For example, in the US business sector, IS continues to consume about a 30% of yearly total investments made (Centre for the Study of LivingStandards 2012). Recent research documents that IS supports the creation of business value, with particular emphasis on an organization’s innovation and change capabilities (Aral, Brynjolfsson, and Wu 2012; Brynjolfsson and McAfee 2011). Traditionally, research in IS has been interdisciplinary in nature – since it draws on innovation theory, models of value creation, actors’ roles and behaviors, the creation and running of task oriented groups, and how these relate to organizational structures and mechanisms (see for example, Roberts, Galluch, Dinger, and Grover 2012). Throughout its history the question of benefits from investing in IS has been lively discussed.

It is emphatically true that IS software creators, consultancies, and organizations taking IS into use have done what they deem is necessary to carry through development, implementation, and usage processes. As we know, these ac-tors have developed methods, techniques, procedures for securing competence, and supporting tools for the crea-tion and maintenance of the IS portfolio. Although the path of IS development and use has been winding and full of potholes it is equally apt to observe that despite of setbacks IS has over its decades of existence consistently enjoyed a staggering level of success.

We ask, within the umbrella of innovation and change, what have been the contributions of academia? Indeed, Sili-con Valley is a success story. Yet, in theoretical terms, what are the contributions in theory that have enjoyed wide use among software creators and user organizations?

IFIP WG8.6 was in 1993 created to bring together researchers and practitioners with a particular interest in diffu-sion of technology issues. In the group’s early days Rogers’ (2003) theory of diffusion of innovation played a major role, resulting in a series of conference contributions (for example, Larsen 2001; Lyytinen and Damsgaard 2001). The introduction of the Technology Acceptance Model (Davis) in 1989 virtually killed the interest in Rogers’ diffu-sion theory. We can safely say that TAM has enjoyed wide and intense use with hundreds of publications (for ex-ample, Legris, Ingham, and Collerette 2003; Venkatesh, Morris, Davis, and Davis 2003). Yet, it is exceedingly dif-ficult to find evidence of practical application of TAM, that is, that TAM one way or other has been concretely in-cluded in IS projects and that TAM has worked as a vehicle for practitioners in understanding aspects of IS use. Yet, diffusion theory and TAM address phenomena on the individual level of analysis. Examples of contributions on the organizational level are Capability Maturity Model (Herbsleb, Zubrow, Goldenson, Hayes, and Paulk 1997) and Swanson’s (Swanson 1994; Swanson and Ramiller 2004) explorations of innovation theory. Yet, it is unclear whether these have resulted in further theory developments or have enjoyed wide use in practice. These questions are also raised about process oriented approaches, such as Soft Systems Thinking (Checkland and Holwell 1998).

The panel is put together to address these and related issues. We ask, what have been major contributions within the umbrellas of diffusion and innovation theory related to IS since the mid 1990ies? Are these still alive, and if not, what would it take to re-invoke them? If what we have addressed so far are dead ends, what other approaches to theory building should we cultivate, and what would those diffusion and innovation theories actually be? Who would benefit from our endeavors; practitioners or academicians?

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