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Technology Diffusion: Background and Overview
Table of Contents
Background and Overview
The ADOP2T Model
Initiating an ADOP2T Program
Reasons to Change
Barriers to Change
State and Regional Efforts
Dictionary
Key Contacts
Acknowledgements
Complete List of Links

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This hub is intended to introduce technical assistance providers or "change agents" to an assistance approach and system that facilitates the adoption of alternative technologies that reduce or eliminate waste at manufacturing facilities. This Topic Hub does not advise the user on a specific technology or industry.

This Topic Hub also offers a compilation of relevant on-line resources including documents and technical contacts. The key technical contacts are individuals who have direct experience with carrying out the steps and recommendations presented in this Topic Hub and they can provide advice when needed.

For the purpose of simplifying the information presented, "change agents" refers to individuals involved with assisting industry with pollution prevention, environmental compliance, and manufacturing assistance. This may include technical assistance providers from university programs, state pollution prevention agencies, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) manufacturing extension agents, consultants, vendors, etc. From this point forward, this group of individuals will be referred to as change agents.

In this hub "pollution prevention (P2) benefits" include the prevention of the generation of both regulated and non-regulated waste, as well as the use of alternative materials that are less polluting, and minimizing the amount of raw materials used or consumed in a process (including water). P2 benefits also include reducing energy and labor inputs.

This Topic Hub refers to industrial technology diffusion, which leads to the prevention of pollution. This does not necessarily refer to computer technology diffusion, but may not exclude aspects of computer technologies associated with manufacturing.

What is Technology Diffusion?

Under most circumstances, the success or failure of the widespread adoption of a technology associated with effectively addressing P2 problems is dependent on one or more of the activities summarized below:

  • Technology Development - For problems that currently do not have satisfactory solutions. The technical aspects must be developed to a point such that the technology is simple, compatible and rugged enough to be used in real-world applications. Additionally, the technical advantages (economics, materials efficiency, etc.) must be well established. These activities are performed predominantly by researchers and entrepreneurs.

  • Technology Transfer - For solutions that are not readily available on the open market. The technology must have moved beyond the laboratory testing and demonstration phases. It needs to be marketed to private sector entities willing to commercialize the technology. These activities are performed primarily by lawyers and business specialists such as venture capitalists.

  • Technology Diffusion - For solutions that are commercially available but have not achieved widespread market penetration. Clients need technology education assistance to create technology awareness and promote understanding of technical principles. Uncertainty issues associated with how to implement the technology must be resolved. This is often accomplished through demonstrations and pilot trials. These activities are usually performed by sales people, technical assistance providers, and consultants.

Technology diffusion addresses the broader scope and approach of facilitating change or implementation of technologies that reduce raw material use and waste at industrial facilities, thus achieving pollution prevention (P2). With this approach, change agents combine traditional assistance methods with site-specific information, assistance information and on-site help with how to implement a particular technology. This includes technology demonstrations and on-site pilot trials. It is followed up with evaluations and outcomes along with recommendations and conclusions as to whether the technology may achieve the intended goal (reduce waste and save money) for the individual facility.

Prevention is a "Hard-Sell"

Prevention tends to be a difficult concept to sell because the benefits occur in an unknown distant future and require real behavior change, which can reduce comfort and increase complexity. For example, seatbelts were not widely adopted until laws were instituted that required their use, despite the fact that the advantages of seatbelts, in terms of injury prevention, were well documented and publicized.

Additionally, government change agents that actively promote P2 are generally regarded as being "very different from" or even "hostile to" the private sector entities they are trying to influence. Businesses do not normally turn to government agencies as sources of innovation.

Three types of knowledge are involved in the decision to adopt or reject an innovation:
Awareness knowledge: Information that an innovation exists
How-To knowledge: Information necessary to use an innovation properly
Principles knowledge: Information dealing with the functioning principles underlying how the innovation works.

Most entities that are actively trying to promote P2 have focused on creating the first step "awareness knowledge" of P2 practices. Emphasis has been placed on creating fact sheets, case studies, databases, and Internet resources. These materials are generally effective at describing the advantages of various P2 practices. The change agents that distribute the awareness materials often become frustrated with their clients for not adopting the practices because they feel that the awareness information should be adequate to justify adoption. However, many change agents fail to recognize that assistance with developing sound technical principles and "how-to" support regarding implementation of P2 practices are also often required to ensure that the uncertainty level associated with the practices is reduced to a point where adoption will occur.

Additionally, very few regulatory requirements have been instituted that require the implementation of P2. While most potential P2 adopters recognize its value and importance, the choice to adopt P2 remains predominantly optional, with little urgency associated with it. Consequently, P2 tends to be pushed aside in favor of more immediate compliance-oriented strategies that are not optional.

The adoption rate of innovations tends to be affected by five basic characteristics:

  • Relative advantage over the practice that the innovation supercedes
  • Compatibility with existing values, past experiences and needs of potential adopters
  • Complexity, or perceptions regarding how difficult the innovation is to understand and use
  • Observability, or the degree to which the results of the innovation are visible to others
  • Trialability, or the degree to which an innovation can be experimented with on a limited basis

P2 innovations tend to exhibit strong relative advantage attributes. However, they are often perceived to be complex and incompatible with existing methods of operation. Fortunately, many P2 technologies exhibit strong observability and trialability characteristics that can be used to effectively address these problems. Technology demonstrations and extended pilot trials can reduce uncertainty associated with the technology's complexity and compatibility.

Existing Technical Assistance Methods for Technology Diffusion

Most P2 technical assistance providers focus the bulk of their technology-related efforts on education. This approach includes activities such as workshops, seminars, distributing case studies, fact sheets, internet resources, etc. These practices distribute large amounts of information to many customers at a relatively modest cost. Methods and materials such as these offer great vehicles for creating P2 technology awareness and for explaining the technical principles behind the technologies. However, as previously noted, technology education alone does not usually provide the site-specific information required for widespread implementation.

While awareness and understanding are certainly important information elements in the decision-making process, additional information and performance confirmation by opinion leaders is required before a client will choose to adopt a technology. Utilization of time-tested innovation diffusion principles to promote P2 technology adoption offers motivation to P2 change agents and offers them an approach to acquire additional skills required to improve their effectiveness.

Generally, alternative technologies that result in the prevention of waste and pollution are applied to manufacturing production and maintenance processes where the opinion of environmental regulators is not necessarily a motivating change factor. For P2 technologies, the opinions of company personnel, trusted vendors, competitors and peers are considered to be most important. Most decisions to adopt or reject an innovation are based on a subjective evaluation of the innovation grounded by input from peers who have implemented or at least understand the technology and are perceived to be credible.


 

The Topic Hub™ is a product of the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange (P2Rx)

The Technology Diffusion Topic Hub™ was developed by:

Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable
Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable
Contact email: glrppr@istc.illinois.edu

Hub Last Updated: 12/9/2010