DEFINITIONS AND THEORIES OF INNOVATION What is an Innovation and Why Does One Happen? A review of the literature on innovation and diffusion reveals several distinct schools of thought as to just what an innovation is and why one might happen. The "school" which has been most influential in North-American and North-American influenced development projects is led by Everett Rogers. He defines innovation as "an idea, practice, or object that is perceived as new by an individual or other unit of adoption" (Rogers 1983:11). This school views innovation and diffusion as distinct processes, takes the need for the innovation as given, treats technology as a free-standing object independent and devoid of cultural meaning, and views problems of diffusion as ones of communication and persuasion. To E. Rogers, innovations are singular inventions that are adopted via a process of protagonistic "marketing". At issue is the potential adopters behavior ("i.e." attitudes and personality) -- rather than their ability to adopt, and the ability of the agent promoting the innovation to persuade the potential adopter. In contrast to the Rogers school, H. Barnett (1953), B. Agarwal and others have argued that innovation and diffusion are not separate processes -- that innovation is essentially the first step in the diffusion process -- and that potential adopters decisions concerning adoption is based on rationality rather than persuasion (Agarwal 1983). In this school, innovations are ideas or technologies which are continually adapted as they are adopted, and represent sequential socio-cultural change. H. Barnett, an early proponent of this school, stated that "When an innovation takes place, there is an intimate linkage or fusion of two or more elements that not have been previously joined in just this fashion, so that the result is a qualitatively distinct whole" (Barnett 1953:181). J. Schumpeter's simple definition, that innovations are "the carrying out of new combinations" (1971:47) also fits this contrasting school of thought. Economists have focused on the economic factors "inducing" innovation, and have taken a market rather than personal perspective. Ruttan and Hayami (1984), utilize a functionalist, neo-classical argument that innovation results from the endogenous scarcity of some component of production. Thus, using this argument for example, the tractor was adopted in the United States in response to increasing labor costs. This is essentially the "scarcity is the mother of all invention" school. The neo-classical school has been criticized by another group of economists that emphasize the importance of exogenous, structural factors (history, international markets, politics and institutions) in "inducing" innovation ("e.g." A. de Janvry 1985). The discipline of anthropology is also divided on the subject. Again, in general terms, the division is largely between those who consider humans to be pragmatists with innovations a function of their rational objectives and characterized by the materials at hand, and those who consider humans meaning- and symbol-making beings with innovations a function of their subjectively defined beliefs. From the latter perspective, innovation is culturally defined and stimulated, and thus innovation is essentially an overt act of cultural creation. Regardless of which of the two arguments one supports, anthropology informs us that for reasons related to either material or belief systems, each and every culture is necessarily and fundamentally different. Anthropology thus offers at least one clear contribution to the debate on innovation: an innovation which can be considered "rational" in one socio-cultural environment would not necessarily be considered "rational" in another. Two anthropologists, H. Barnett and S. Gudeman, offer arguments that bridge this gap between the "induced" argument of the economists and the "culturalist" arguments of some anthropologists. Barnett maintained that the incentives to innovate can be described as: self-wants (including credit wants and subliminal wants); dependent wants (including convergent, and compensatory wants); or a voluntary desire for change (Barnett 1953). At the personal level, the "induced" innovation model of Ruttan and Hayami would fit within Barnett's model. Accepting the Barnett's and Schumpeter's definition of innovation -- as that of making new combinations of familiar things -- S. Gudeman proposes that people create new things for use, and simultaneously create culture (Gudeman 1991). A discarded food bowl used for a chimney cap is thus both an innovation with practical use value and a cultural creation. This proposal is both a refinement and extension of the Barnett model. Beyond economic and cultural rationales, there are of course "personal" motivations for innovation. By using the term "wants" rather than "needs", Barnett clearly asserts the uniquely personal nature of innovation incentives. Schumpeter notes that these motivations vary from "spiritual ambition...mere snobbery...will to conquer...to prove oneself...to succeed for success itself...[and] finally there is the joy of creating, of getting things done or of simply exercising one's energy and ingenuity."(Schumpeter 1971:69). Gudeman (1991) reminds us that the innovator can be motivated more by pride and excitement than by potential economic gain. How Does an Innovation Happen? We have previously discussed various theories concerning what an innovation is and why it might occur. How does it actually take place? Conventional American literature and the popular American belief hold that innovations are largely the product of supraindividual inventors who have great intellects, insight, and an eagerness to take risks. These independent innovators are also the entrepreneurs whose gall, brilliance and drive for profit make the market economy function. Barnett (1953), Kash (1989) and others have proposed that the "American, independent innovator" is largely the stuff of myth -- or was only partially true in an earlier period -- and though often responsible for formulating new ideas, they are not, unto themselves, responsible for innovations. H. Barnett also emphasized that innovations initially and primarily take place on a mental plane where divergent ideas converge. Barnett proposed that the breadth and depth of ideas increase the frequency of innovations and that social, cultural or natural barriers to the exchange of ideas necessarily limit their mixing and remodeling. Similarly, Barnett found that the collaboration of effort positively influenced innovation. Group interaction increases the possibility that a new idea will develop, not only because of the simultaneous and cooperative exploration, but because the interactions are mutually stimulating (Barnett 1953:42-43). According to Kash, innovations are actually the product of organizations which integrate different knowledge and skills held by different individuals. This is not to dismiss the importance of the original idea, or of brilliant individuals. It is to state that brilliant ideas are initially just recombinations of old ideas, and that they are actually reformulated, adapted and processed by "normal" men who in the process create the innovation. Kash's theory that organizations sequentially create innovations is similar to that held by the innovation school represented by Agarwal: that innovation, adaptation and diffusion is a single process involving multiple individuals. The term "brainstorming" illustrates Barnett's and Kash's proposition. From this perspective, groups or societies which are successful innovators are those in which individuals are organized in ways which stimulate the generation, interchange, testing and adoption of ideas. In essence, "the collective capacity to innovate becomes something more than the simple sum of its parts." (Reich in Kash 1989:53). Thus in modern western society at least, the secret to innovative capacity is propitious social organization. Summary: A Proposed Theory of Innovation in Rural Haiti The author will adopt the Barnett and Schumpeter definition of innovation and amend it with contributions of Agarwal, Gudeman and Kash: that innovations are essentially new combinations of familiar ideas (or "things") or a new use of an old idea; that this innovation is first "induced" by motivations which can be described as self- and dependent wants, and then "formed" by culture, market prices, resource endowments, and social organization. More specifically, innovation is the first step in the diffusion process and group dynamics positively affects the creation of the innovation itself, and then its diffusion. The second step in the process, the "formation" of the innovation is directly dependent upon State "permission" of the individual freedom and social collaboration which facilitate the interchange of ideas. This theory implies that at least three major factors would influence innovation and diffusion: 1) the history and culture of a people; 2) the political and economic context within which they operate and; 3) the organizational framework within which they think, discuss and work [note 2]. These factors influencing innovation will be reviewed in relation to Haiti before analyzing the case studies. [Note 2. This theory corresponds to and is consistent with a three dimensional model for analyzing soil conservation independently generated by G. Murray in October of 1991 (Murray 1991). He proposes that soil conservation be analyzed as a behavior evolving within three interlinked components: 1) technoeconomic; 2) organizational; and 3) ideational. He also proposes that the technoeconomic component has greater strength than the others and usually drives behavioral evolution.
Converted from gopher on 8/6/1999