Structuralist Perspectives on Innovation

Unlike individualist perspectives (DOI, TRA, TPB, TAM, etc), a structuralist perspective argues that diffusion of innovation is determined by organisational characteristics (such as technology, strategy, differentiation, etc) and organisational variables (such as size, complexity, professionalism, formalisation, and governance) (Slappendel 1996). Structuralist perspectives are not only concerned with the organisation itself but also its environment. Within structuralist perspectives, the environment influences the adoption of innovation for an organisation and at the same time innovations are facilitated by communication between the organisation and its environment (Duncan 1972; Zaltman, Duncan & Holbek 1973). Typical environmental factors are customers, suppliers, competitors, and government (Duncan 1972). Customers could be a source of innovation information or may demand new products or services that push the organisation to adopt innovations, while suppliers might make organisations aware of innovations. On the other hand, the competitive pressure from competitors might initiate adoption, although with limited effect. Finally, governments with their policies also influence the adoption of innovation within organisations, although many structuralist perspectives articles do not discuss this (Slappendel 1996).

Typical examples of structuralist perspectives on adoption innovation can be seen in the literature on inter-organisational information systems or any systems which would involve third parties outside the organisation. The following are examples:

  • Teo and Pian (2003) investigated the strategy, size, and competitive advantage influence toward web adoption.
  • Soliman and Janz (2004) found that inter-organisational information systems were affected by the systems characteristics, pressure from competition, and trading partners’ influence.
  • Utomo and Dodgson (2001) argued that for IT diffusion to be successful, the support of government and research institutions were important as well as the organisation’s strategy.
  • Yao, Xu, Liu, and Lu (2003) found that organisational characteristics, especially size, influenced the adoption of Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) at a university.

It can be seen that the focus is really on the organisation’s characteristics and its environment affecting adoption of innovation. It is also noted that the processes within organisations were not a focus in structuralist perspectives (Slappendel 1996). Internal organisational processes such as the development of structure, pattern, and interaction were important factors to explain organisation characteristics. Organisation characteristics can explain why semiformal organisations such as SMEs can be more flexible than larger enterprises, so may explain why an SME can adopt innovation more quickly than larger enterprises.


Duncan, R.B. 1972, ‘Characteristics of Organizational Environments and Perceived Environmental Uncertainty’, Administrative Science Quarterly, vol. 17, no. 3, pp. 313-327.

Slappendel, C. 1996, ‘Perspectives on Innovation in Organizations’, Organization Studies, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 107-129.

Soliman, K.S. & Janz, B.D. 2004, ‘An Exploratory Study to Identify the Critical Factors Affecting the Decision to Establish Internet-based Interorganizational Information Systems’, Information & Management, vol. 41, no. 6, pp. 697-706.

Teo, T.S.H. & Pian, Y. 2003, ‘A Contingency Perspective on Internet Adoption and Competitive Advantage’, European Journal of Information Systems, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 78-92.

Utomo, H. & Dodgson, M. 2001, ‘Contributing Factors to The Diffusion of IT Within Small and Medium-sized Firms in Indonesia.’, Journal of Global Information Technology Management, vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 22-37.

Yao, J.E., Xu, X., Liu, C. & Lu, J. 2003, ‘Organizational Size: A Significant Predictor of IT Innovation Adoption’, Journal of Computer Information Systems, vol. 43, no. 2, pp. 76-82.

Zaltman, G., Duncan, R. & Holbek, J. 1973, Innovations and Organizations, Wiley, New York.

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