In 1962, Everett Rogers’ influential marketing book, “Diffusions of Innovation”, described the process by which new ideas are communicated through a social system. Symes and Pauwels (1999) concluded that this theory can be applied to the take up of innovation within urban design. According to Rogers, each member of the system faces his/her own innovation decision that follows a five-step process:
- Knowledge – person becomes aware of an innovation and has some idea of how it functions;
- Persuasion – person forms a favourable or unfavourable attitude toward the innovation;
- Decision – person engages in activities that lead to a choice to adopt or reject the innovation;
- Implementation – person puts an innovation into use; and
- Confirmation – person evaluates the results of an innovation-decision already made.
Most planners would be aware of urban design and appreciate its place-making role in our urban environment. Yet, targeted training could ‘push’ them through the remaining stages of the decision process by:
• assisting them to integrate urban design into their professional practice; • providing them with processes, tools and guidelines for implementation; and • identifying the benchmark for ‘quality urban places’ to assist in confirmation.
Consumers – the mass market
In a broader sense, urban design as an outcome can be related to many new ideas or products that are valuable for the masses, yet to date have resisted diffusion. While the results of the training remain to be seen, could we dramatically improve the quality of places by targeting consumers as well as practitioners? That is, the 85% of Australians living in urbanised environments.
While we all appreciate that urban design represents principles of urbanism established over thousands of years, can we accelerate change by adopting approaches which influence the mass market?
Malcolm Gladwell’s international bestselling book, “Tipping Point”, relates significant change (which affects our lives) to epidemics like measles. This could range from the emergence of new ideas or social trends to crime waves. He relates these changes to three principles:
- little causes have big effects; and
- change happens dramatically, not gradually.
Tipping point refers to the third principle and describes “the moment of critical mass, the boiling point, the threshold”. Gladwell’s three rules of the Tipping Point are:
- The Law of the Few: a small number of people can influence many (80/20 principle)
- The Stickiness Factor: the specific content of a message renders it memorable.
- The Power of Context: human behaviour is strongly influenced by its environment.
With new communication networks, technology and software (like twitter), diffusion is happening faster and faster in our society. Therefore, understanding and utilising social networks can assist us to induce system-wide change. As built environment professionals, we probably all qualify as urban design innovators in our society. Should we now be targeting the early adopters who fall outside our profession?
I believe the challenge for urban design protagonists is to influence the mass market, the remaining 18 million people living in urbanised Australia.
The PIA urban design unit will commence in March 2010. More information is available at the PIA website www.planning.org.au or the Chifley Business School www.chifley.edu.au/cpp_programs.asp