Giving voice to ideas : the role description plays in the diffusion of radical innovations
Author(s)Cohen, Kalyn Culler, 1958-
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Urban Studies and Planning.
Langley C. Keyes.
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One of the more stable findings in the "diffusion and knowledge utilization" literature is that simple innovations. those compatible with the existing practices in a field. are spread more easily than those which challenge standard practice. Yet it is the more radical innovations that hold special promise for advancing the practice of a field. Using an action research methodology. the author studied the diffusion of radical innovations in two very different programmatic settings. first in an undergraduate affirmative action program on a university campus and later in a philanthropic-driven effort to fund charitable work with recoverable investments rather than grants--a practice that is called "program-related Investing." The two programs together served as test cases--one as a precipitating paradox and the other as a conscious experiment--in overcoming barriers to the diffusion of an important category of innovations: innovations that require individuals to practice in new ways and acquire new skills, that cause some disruption to the broader organization and that involve the "soft" technologies of knowledge rather than the "hard" material technologies. The literature treated diffuser's descriptions of their innovations as self-evident. whereas the author found that diffusers of these radical. practice innovations unintentionally gave incomplete and in some cases misleading descriptions of their work. An argument is made that effective description must do more than represent the original innovation with some accuracy. It must enable diffusers to teach those aspects of their practice which am difficult for them to make explicit by including opportunities for practicing side-by -side. whether these be through simulated practice worlds or actual ones. It must also enable appropriate transformation of the innovation. This can be best accomplished by structuring a dialogue between diffusers and (potential) users to lift up multiple descriptions of the practice. It is the process of comparing such descriptions that allows diffusers and users to build up an understanding both of the essence of the innovation and of ways in which transformations may preserve or damage this essence.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dept. of Urban Studies and Planning, 1999.Includes bibliographical references (leaves 134-144).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Urban Studies and Planning.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Urban Studies and Planning.