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Title:Innovation Diffusion and Broadband Deployment in East St. Louis, Illinois, USA
Author(s):Wolske, Martin; Bievenue, Lisa
Subject(s):early adopters
late majority
underserved
diffusion of innovation theory
Abstract:The US Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP) is designed to stimulate the economy with broadband access and adoption through a comprehensive community infrastructure design, especially targeting underserved areas such as East St. Louis, Illinois (ESL). The assumption has been that ICT usage in ESL is limited and not well understood, and that other less disadvantaged communities, like Champaign-Urbana (C-U), are more readily able to adopt ICT. However, parallel BTOP application processes revealed that both communities faced similar challenges. Everett Rogers’ Diffusion Of Innovation theory emerged as a framework to describe differences, and ultimately to design a program of widespread adoption for ESL. One key finding is that both C-U and ESL have innovators; the difference is that ESL innovators often go unnoticed and their appropriation of technology does not effectively transfer to the community. Strategies previously employed in ESL targeted outreach and training of the late majority without development of early adopters and early majority. However, diffusion is an ongoing process that requires diffusion from innovators to early adopters to early majority, and so on. The difference between C-U and ESL is not the size of the late majority, but the presence of early adopters to enable ongoing transfer of emerging technologies. Accordingly, the ESL BTOP proposal stressed empowering existing local innovators; developing early adopters by providing the necessary infrastructure to access and appropriate emerging technologies, and cultivating an Internet culture to build an early majority and enable sustained technology transfer to the late majority through a multi-tiered approach of training and outreach. The BTOP ideas meshed well with the framework already being implemented by those deploying information and communication technology (ICT) in ESL over the past decade. The assumption has been that ICT usage in that community is limited and not well understood. A corollary is that other less disadvantaged communities, like Champaign-Urbana (C-U), the home of the University of Illinois, are highly competent with 21st century ICT. However, through parallel BTOP application processes in C-U and ESL, the unexpected finding was that both communities faced similar challenges in terms of embracing new ICTs. Both communities have a few individuals who grasp the potential advantages in adoption of emerging technologies, and many who are indifferent or skeptical of the emerging technology, with key municipal and civic leaders falling into each category. Everett Rogers’ Diffusion Of Innovation theory emerged as a framework for community organization in ESL during the last two months of the BTOP proposal development process (January-March 2010). The theory defines five categories of people in relation to innovation: 1) innovators, 2) early adopters, 3) early majority, 4) late majority, and 5) laggards. In fact, both C-U and ESL have innovators; the difference is that ESL innovators often went unnoticed and their appropriation of technology did not effectively transfer to the broader community without active help from individuals outside of the community. Strategies previously employed in ESL targeted outreach and training of late majority and laggards with the goal of bringing them up to the level of early adopters. However, diffusion is an ongoing process that requires diffusion from innovators to early adopters to early majority, and so on; training late majority and laggards to adopt the innovations was an approach that attempted to bypass this process. The difference, then, between C-U and ESL is not the absence of late majority and laggards, but the presence or absence of early adopters and early majority within the community to enable ongoing transfer of emerging technologies broadly throughout the community. Accordingly, the ESL BTOP proposal stressed: empowering existing local innovators; developing new innovators by providing the necessary infrastructure to access and appropriate emerging technologies, and cultivating local economic incentives and Internet culture to retain the innovators. As important was the strategic development of an early majority within the community to enable sustained technology transfer to the late majority and laggards through a multi-tiered approach of training and outreach to opinion leaders within various municipal, educational, and civic groups. Responding to the unexpected fostered an approach informed by a well-tested theory and anticipated broad ICT adoption within the community of East St. Louis.
Issue Date:2010-10
Citation Info:Prato CIRN-DIAC Community Informatics Conference 2010: Refereed Stream
Genre:Conference Paper / Presentation
Type:Text
Language:English
URI:http://hdl.handle.net/2142/17398
Publication Status:published or submitted for publication
Peer Reviewed:is peer reviewed
Date Available in IDEALS:2010-11-08


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