Feed the Future
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Planning for Scale: Using What We Know About Human Behavior in the Diffusion of Agricultural Innovation and the Role or Agricultural Extension

Date Published: 
March 16, 2015

The impact of development interventions is predicated on effecting widespread behavioral change. The intent of this technical note is to reinsert what we know about human behavior in the adoption and spread of innovations into current discussions on the scaling of project impacts involving agricultural extension and advisory services.  Across the development enterprise as a whole, personal ambition, professional reward structures and corporate identity have combined to fuel efforts in developing new frameworks and methods that will steer others along the path of solving persistent problems.  A careful analysis of the root causes of failures in development efforts, however, would likely show more failures due to incomplete application and lack of patience in applying what we do know than failures associated with the endless parade of new constructs and approaches.

Since the publication of the first edition in 1962, Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations has become the second most widely cited text in sociology (Singhal, 2005) and a central reference in a growing area of research that has generated well over 7,000 referenced publications.[1] Yet when we look at current development practice, little of this knowledge is being explicitly utilized in the design of agricultural extension inter­ventions. Why?  And, more importantly, how can we better utilize what we know to guide future efforts?

The role of agricultural extension in facilitating the introduction and diffusion of innovations in reaching their natural scale of impact is organized here around four critical issues: understanding the potential adoption domain of innovations, responding to the human behavior dimensions of technology adoption, accommodating the inherent different characteristics of innovations, and appreciating the importance of time in diffusion of innovationsin planning for the achievement of scaled impacts. Discussion of these core issues is followed by a summary of the role that agricultural extension can play in the scaling of behavior change based upon observations of these critical elements.

Rogers identified 3,890 diffusion studies in his fourth edition, published in 1995. Ying (2011) identified 3,919 publications related to innovation diffusion from the years 1990-2010, 695 of which were published in the 1990s.  The number of studies conducted since 2010 are unknown.