Modeling the Diffusion of Complex Innovations as a Process of Opinion Formation through Social Networks

Valentina Assenova, Management, The Wharton School

PLoS ONE 13(5): e0196699

Abstract: Complex innovations – ideas, practices, and technologies that hold uncertain benefits for potential adopters — often vary in their ability to diffuse in different communities over time. To explain why, I develop a model of innovation adoption in which agents engage in naïve (DeGroot) learning about the value of an innovation within their social networks. Using simulations on Bernoulli random graphs, I examine how adoption varies with network properties and with the distribution of initial opinions and adoption thresholds. The results show that: (i) low-density and high-asymmetry networks produce polarization in influence to adopt an innovation over time, (ii) increasing network density and asymmetry promote adoption under a variety of opinion and threshold distributions, and (iii) the optimal levels of density and asymmetry in networks depend on the distribution of thresholds: networks with high density (>0.25) and high asymmetry (>0.50) are optimal for maximizing diffusion when adoption thresholds are right-skewed (i.e., barriers to adoption are low), but networks with low density (<0.01) and low asymmetry (<0.25) are optimal when thresholds are left-skewed. I draw on data from a diffusion field experiment to predict adoption over time and compare the results to observed outcomes.

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Michelle Eckert is Marketing and Communications Coordinator for the Mack Institute, where she works to engage students, researchers, and corporate partners in opportunities for collaboration. Michelle received her B.A. in Art from Valparaiso University in 2007. Her background includes two AmeriCorps terms of service working to teach mathematics, computer literacy, and job readiness skills to out-of-school youth in Philadelphia, focusing particularly on promoting access to post-secondary education.