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The role of change agents in diffusion of innovation of Internet technology in SMEs: the case of broadband introduction in the UK West Midlands

Martin Beckinsale, De Montfort University
Margi Levy, University of Warwick

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Objective: Internet adoption has been identified as a means to improve competitiveness among UK SMEs. To facilitate adoption the UK government invested heavily in regional projects to diffuse knowledge of the Internet and the services it enabled throughout the SME sector. This paper considers the impact of regional government projects acting as change agents for internet adoption, by exploring Rogers (2003) diffusion of innovation model.

Prior Work: Rogers’ (2003) model identifies five stages of innovation diffusion and the role of the change agent in the diffusion process. These five stages enable identification of the innovation decision process. The five stages are knowledge, persuasion, decision, implementation, confirmation (or discontinuance). Adoption rates are affected by relative advantage, compatibility, trialability, observability and reduction in complexity. Rogers identifies seven roles for the change agent: identifying a need for change, establishing an information exchange relationship, diagnosing problems, creating an intent to change, translating intents into actions, stabilizing adoption and enabling self-awareness of the process of change.

Approach: This paper uses data from the CW2000 project, a regional intervention project that ran from 2000-2003 to consider the role of the change agent. Over 600 SMEs were assisted by the project during this period. The main criterion for their inclusion in the project was location and firm size. Fifty SMEs, of those assisted, were followed in more detail (qualitatively) using a longitudinal case study approach to understand the reasons, the influences and the effects of involvement in the project. The 50 SMEs were interviewed on several occasions throughout the life of the project.

Results: By comparing stages with roles it is possible to understand the role of the change agent at each stage of the diffusion process in promoting Internet adoption among SMEs. The suggestion from the findings is that the change agent is important in the diffusion process. But significantly the role the change agent plays and how that role is perceived in relation to the expectations of the SMEs influences the diffusion process. Most significantly the paper follows up the businesses in 2009 to examine the influence of the diffusion and the change agent and points to the effectiveness of the process.

Implications: The papers and its findings have implications for both policy makers and deliverers as well as SMEs who are intended to benefit from change agent activity. Additionally, it will add to knowledge on the role of the change agent in diffusion of innovations.

Value: Internet adoption has been seen as critical for SMEs to improve competitiveness by the UK government and also by governments globally. The UK government supported EU funded projects which were designed to inform and support internet adoption amongst the SME sector. The effectiveness of these projects as change agents has not been explored. It is also not clear whether and to what extent it is the project or the individuals within the project that influence adoption decisions.

2009, Liverpool

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