Diffusion of innovations

The active involvement of young people is characteristic of many peer-based programs. Young people may be involved as participants or adopt leadership roles as peer leaders, peer supporters or peer educators.

Young people in leadership roles can be very influential within the peer group and their associated networks. Their attitudes and behaviours can ‘diffuse’ through the peer group and be adopted by group members, particularly if the young leaders are also perceived by the peer group as credible and knowledgeable peer role models.

The influence of peer role models within a peer group is consistent with Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations Theory.1 Adoption of new or innovative practices or behaviours can be influenced by various factors including 1) a perception that the new behaviour is superior to current behaviour 2) ease of learning the new behaviour 3) perceived risks associated with adopting the new behaviour 4) alignment with cultural values and 5) opportunities to observe what happens when others adopt the new behaviour.

Further, the rate of adoption within a group is shown to vary and includes “innovators” who are quickest to adopt (2-3%), “early adopters” who are able and willing to change (10-15%), “early majority” who are willing to change and have been persuaded of the benefits (30-35%), “late majority” who are skeptics and reluctant to adopt new ideas (30-35%) and “laggards” who are resistant to change, most conservative or lack resources to make changes (10-20%).

Exposure to a range of perspectives on a problem and a range of positive coping strategies adopted by credible and positive peer role models can help change long standing or negative attitudes, thinking and beliefs. Thus, participation in a peer-based program may influence new ‘innovative’ and acceptable behaviours such as:

  • Reduced stigma associated with help-seeking
  • Improved help-seeking behaviour
  • Acceptance and tolerance of diversity
  • Pro-social behaviours or raised awareness that personal or group achievements can be achieved without engaging in anti-social or criminal behaviour.
  • Alternatives to risk behaviors where these are not acceptable to the peer group.

Given the potential influence of young people in leadership roles, stringent screening, selection and monitoring processes need to be implemented to ensure that peer role models are perceived as credible and knowledge peer role models; have good peer networks in which to exert their influence; and continue to exert a positive influence within the peer group.


  1. Rogers, E. (1983). Diffusion of innovations. New York, NY, Free press.