To understand organisational technology adoption (initiation, adoption decision, implementation) by looking at the different types of innovation knowledge used during this process.
Qualitative, multisite, comparative case study design.
One primary care and 11 acute care organisations (trusts) across all health regions in England in the context of infection prevention and control.
Participants and data analysis
121 semistructured individual and group interviews with 109 informants, involving clinical and non-clinical staff from all organisational levels and various professional groups. Documentary evidence and field notes were also used. 38 technology adoption processes were analysed using an integrated approach combining inductive and deductive reasoning.
Those involved in the process variably accessed three types of innovation knowledge: ‘awareness’ (information that an innovation exists), ‘principles’ (information about an innovation's functioning principles) and ‘how-to’ (information required to use an innovation properly at individual and organisational levels). Centralised (national, government-led) and local sources were used to obtain this knowledge. Localised professional networks were preferred sources for all three types of knowledge. Professional backgrounds influenced an asymmetric attention to different types of innovation knowledge. When less attention was given to ‘how-to’ compared with ‘principles’ knowledge at the early stages of the process, this contributed to 12 cases of incomplete implementation or discontinuance after initial adoption.
Potential adopters and change agents often overlooked or undervalued ‘how-to’ knowledge. Balancing ‘principles’ and ‘how-to’ knowledge early in the innovation process enhanced successful technology adoption and implementation by considering efficacy as well as strategic, structural and cultural fit with the organisation's context. This learning is critical given the policy emphasis for health organisations to be innovation-ready.
Despite policy support and the development of a dedicated evidence dissemination infrastructure in the NHS, why is technology adoption and implementation still a challenge?
We need to understand better how the innovation process unfolds in organisations to build on what we know about individual behaviours. In particular, how the use of different types of knowledge about an innovation impacts its adoption and implementation.
In our study, centralised dissemination of evidence had minimal to moderate impact on organisational innovation adoption decisions. Practice-based, peer-mediated and local dissemination systems were perceived more relevant.
In contrast to technology adoption by individuals, organisational adoption required a wider multifaceted conceptualisation of ‘how-to’ knowledge in line with the more complex dynamics in organisations. When ‘how-to’ knowledge was undervalued and considered late, important strategic, structural and cultural elements of the trust's context were overlooked. This had negative implications for technology adoption and implementation.
Professional backgrounds of those involved in the process influenced the types of innovation knowledge considered, which had implications for implementation. The involvement of diverse professionals in decision-making improves the chances of successful implementation through a balanced consideration of the strength of scientific evidence and practical application.
Strengths and limitations of this study
The scale of the study, its real time and longitudinal nature provide a rich data set. Our study is theory driven and comprises multisite comparative case studies, which enhance the generalisability of findings beyond the context of the studied trusts.
We explicitly studied cases of non-adoption and discontinuation after initial adoption to provide important learning often missing from innovation diffusion research.
On limitations, we were not able to follow implementation past the end of August 2010 and therefore do not have information on routinised use of the implemented technologies.