Change: adoption versus use

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Purpose: To highlight the difference between adoption and use in how research findings contribute to change

Description: To understand how research findings lead to change, it is useful to look separately at two steps:

  • Adoption, which is “the willingness and ability to take research results and convert them into something that’s usable more broadly.” This can involve incorporating the results into “an artefact or service or advice” (Elsum, 2013 p. 432).
  • Use, which is inclusion into relevant practice or policy of the artefact, service or advice by people or organisations, who are not the adopter.

Elsum offers the example of the development of a new technical instrument. Adoption is the decision by a manufacturer to produce the new instrument. Use is the decision by organisations to buy the instrument and incorporate it into their operations.

Another example is seed manufacturers adopting research findings on genetic modification of agricultural plants to produce such seeds for commercial sale. Use requires not only uptake by farmers in growing crops from these seeds, but also the willingness of consumers to buy and eat the products.

Finally, public servants may adopt research results in advice provided to government when new policy is being framed. Use depends on that advice being incorporated into the relevant policy, the application of the policy in program design and delivery being consistent with the advice, and the societal outcomes reflecting the intent of the advice.

Researchers often make the mistake of focusing only on adoption. Adoption and use require different processes, as they may be stimulated by different motivations. In his lightning talk presentation, Elsum (2013) describes the importance of understanding the “receiving ecosystems” in which adoption and use occur and considering “pathways” through which impact or change are likely to occur. The difficulty of achieving change rises with the complexity of the receiving ecosystem.

Elsum also offers the following useful advice for those undertaking research that seeks to influence change:

  • the problem is usually ‘fixed’ in that it cannot be changed to make it more tractable to research
  • researchers need to focus on a ‘workable’ solution, which “involves a blend of technical factors and factors to do with adoption and use, none of which may be optimum within its particular domain” (Elsum, 2013, p 433)
  • when time constraints are important, the first workable solution is often the one that is adopted and used, rather than waiting for an optimum solution
  • when there is high uncertainty, iteration between the technical and adoption/use domains in a learning-based approach is required.

Reference: Elsum, I. (2013). Tackling Integrative Applied Research: Lessons from the Management of Innovation. In, Disciplining Interdisciplinarity: Integration and Implementation Sciences for Researching Complex Real-World Problems, by Gabriele Bammer, ANU E-Press, Canberra, Australia, pp: 431-441.

Video (35 minutes: relevant segment found at 1:40 minutes to 4:45 minutes): A lightning talk about this digital poster is available as Digital Poster Lightning Talks #2 by Elsum, Stewart, Walker, Neville, Haryanto and Vincent available on the i2S channel on YouTube. The tour was presented at the First Global Conference on Research Integration and Implementation held in Canberra in Australia, online and at three co-conferences (Lueneburg in Germany, The Hague in the Netherlands and Montevideo in Uruguay), 8-11 September 2013.

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Posted: September 2015
Last modified: February 2021