Applying Diffusion of Innovation Theory to Intervention Development: Article Critique

In the article, Applying Diffusion of Innovation Theory to Intervention Development, Dearing (2009) investigated the diffusion theory by focusing on seven key issues – “intervention attributes, intervention clusters, demonstration projects, societal sectors, reinforcing contextual conditions, opinion leadership, and intervention adaptation” (p. 503). He found out that these issues accelerated the speed of adopting public health programs.

Based on the importance of these elements in social science, the author said researchers, mostly in the fields of public health, education, and agriculture, have realized the usefulness of the classical diffusion of innovation theory to improve the efficacy of social work interventions (Dearing, 2009).

The author believes that the theory’s use varies across different types of social work interventions, such as innovations in human resource management to other types of health interventions that need technological development (Dearing, 2009).

Based on the expanded use of the diffusion of innovation theory, Dearing (2009) also says it is difficult to apply narrow prescriptions of change to social health practices. Using validated concepts, his article argues that the diffusion theory offers many tools for social health workers to use in applying different types of innovations.

This way, Dearing (2009) believes that the theory is useful in helping public health workers to adapt to different social situations and use varied social work innovations to meet their goals.

Researchers have identified different ways that the social diffusion theory could improve public health practice (O’Leary, 2011; Dearing, 2009). For example, Dearing (2009) says the diffusion of innovation theory could improve social work interventions through formative evaluation assessments.

Particularly, they are useful in designing and redesigning health interventions, or formulating effective messages that could communicate key health messages (O’Leary, 2011). The theory could also improve the efficacy of social work interventions by delimiting health intervention clusters to encourage choice and responsible adaptation (Dearing, 2009).

Evidence also shows that the social diffusion theory could help researchers to improve the visibility of their public health campaigns/programs (Dearing, 2009). Researchers also find timing as a key principle of the diffusion of innovations theory that helps public health workers to adapt to contextual requirements of effective public health interventions (O’Leary, 2011; Dearing, 2009).

This contribution would help possible community health adopters to perceive social work interventions as useful and relevant to their welfare. Based on these dynamics, Dearing (2009) finds that the diffusion of innovation theory is instrumental in designing and formulating public health interventions (among other social work initiatives).

The diffusion of innovations model thrives on four main principles – exemplary innovations, useful communication channels, proper timing, and correct social contexts (O’Leary, 2011). This paper identifies the fourth principle as the most important concept to consider in the Ebola public health campaign.

Social context is critical to the success of the campaign because the Sierra Leone society is diverse and subscribes to different cultural inclinations (World Health Organization, 2015). These attributes thrive on widespread societal beliefs, values and principles.

The proposed public health campaign should reflect these dynamics when engaging the target audience because only compatible ideas or messages of the public health campaign (to the society’s values and beliefs) are likely to promote positive health behaviors that would prevent the spread of Ebola, successfully (Dearing, 2009).

Similarly, local communities are likely to adopt health practices that are compatible with their experiences because they could easily comprehend them (Dearing, 2009).


Dearing, J. W. (2009). . Research on Social Work Practice, 19(5), 503–518.

O’Leary, K. (2011). Innovation by example. Nursing Standard, 25(37), 22–23.

World Health Organization (WHO). (2015). Sierra Leone: a traditional healer and a funeral. Web.

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