This paper presents a summary of a master’s thesis titled Innovativeness of Serbia Academic Community done as a final and individual research project within master’s course Research and Innovation In Higher Education-MARIHE. The study explores innovativeness of Serbian academic community and it focuses on factors influencing the level of community members’ willingness to accept changes and hence gives an insight into potential and capacity of the population to adopt or initiate changes on institutional and system level. The summary consists of four sectors giving brief insight into research’ background, methodology, key findings and recommendations.
The study “Innovativeness of Serbian Academic Community” demonstrate the role of individuals’ innovativeness in the transformation of the higher education institutions, national higher education system and wider society in general, using the example of higher education (HE) in Serbia. Research focus is motivated by the fact that the members of the Serbian academic community have a strong and central role in the Serbian HE system that gives them a conducive position to act as advocates or opponents to changes on all levels, to the extent that they can significantly influence changes in the whole system. A number of studies have been dealing with the changes on the system level mostly focused on power, politics or discourse in higher education reforms (Vukasović, 2014), however these studies rarely have psychological approach to the problem focusing on individual members and changes on micro level. In response to this, the study gave effort to demonstrate how members of the academic community who are showing willingness to adopt novelties or to question and modify ongoing ideas, practices and behavior may initiate a chain of changes in institutional and system level.
The study was particularly interested in the relation between innovative individual traits of employees of higher education institutions in Serbia (teachers, researchers and associates) and factors that might influence adoption of innovations. Based on a theoretical framework informed by Rogers’ approach to diffusion of innovation (Rogers, 2003), factors of innovation which were of particular interest are: attributes of new ideas, practices and products that individuals are likely to adopt and the type of organizational culture they are surrounded by. These factors have been studied extensively, but not in relation with members of the academic community in Serbia. The basic idea was to distribute all respondents into five adopter categories according to their characteristics and time needed for them to accept new ideas, practices and/or products, using a carefully designed survey. The shape of distribution was supposed to reveal the potential of the Serbian academic community for change acceptance and to predict future course and speed of changes in the system.
The broadest interest of the study was whether the level of Serbian academic community members’ innovativeness i.e. their willingness to adopt changes or to try new things, can be used to explain the flow of changes in Serbian HE system, both on institutional and system level. Mentioned process of changes the study is focusing on is seen and understood as a process of adoption and diffusion of innovations. To further operationalize and translate this wide topic to more concrete and measurable steps a theoretical framework was developed. Understandings of all significant notions and the ways they were analyzed and later interpreted were developed on the basis of Rogers Everett’s Diffusion of Innovations (DOI) theory. This theoretical framework proved to be suitable for setting the starting assumptions and to be used as a guide throughout the entire study. The theory itself offers more than it was eventually employed in the research. Namely, Rogers and his colleagues were investigating how innovations are being diffused through a social system assuming that innovation has already been adopted. As mentioned before, this study was focusing on adoption of innovation process, i.e. only a part of entire diffusion process. This stressed the necessity to narrow down DOI theory and to apply it to the research interest and context within with it was conducted. Along with these lines, it is important to accentuate that the interest of this research was innovativeness understood as inter-individual difference among people regarding their reactions to new things and willingness to adopt them (Goldsmith & Foxall, 2003), not the entire process of innovation diffusion in the social system as described in DOI theory. To be more precise, adoption is seen as an individual or micro-decision process which involves the series of stages one undergoes from receiving the first knowledge about an innovation to finally adopting it (Goldsmith & Foxall, 2003). Thus, the interests of this study are mechanisms ongoing within an individual and a so called trait-behavior model (Midgey & Dowling, 1978) of innovativeness is applied.
Further, diffusion of no particular innovation was observed within this study. General definition offered by said theory was proven to be appropriate for the intentions of this research as the focus was on the individual innovativeness, not on innovations. On the other side, such approach to innovation emphasized the need to find new ways of measurement, since the DOI definition was proven to be impracticable for such a task. Employing new measurement technique implied different definition of innovativeness itself. However, this has not changed Rogers’ understanding of the notion, which allowed these changes to be implemented in the study in the first place.
An initial assumption in the study was derived from above mentioned theory which served as basis for the generalizations in specific Serbian context. The assumption was that it is possible to extract attributes of innovations, individual traits and organizational innovativeness as factors that influence innovativeness of Serbian academic community. As the focus of the research was on individual innovativeness this was treated as dependent variable of the research. Two additional variables developed through theoretical framework are so called intermediate variables: attribution of innovations and organizational innovativeness. In addition, independent variable comprised of bio-social (gender, age etc.) and working-educational (institution of engagement, work title etc.) characteristics were also developed. Variables are put into relations as shown in the Figure 1 .
Figure 1: Relation of research variables
As it can be seen in the Figure 1 above, dependent variable is innovativeness (individual willingness to adopt innovations) and this study endeavor was to explore whether all intermediary variables as well as independent may show significant influence on it.
As individual innovativeness is dependent variable in the study and as standardized innovativeness scale (IS) was applied to measure it, this notion was operationalized as personality trait characterized as willingness-to-change or willingness-to-try new things as defined by Hurt et al. (1997). Attributes of innovations are grouped in one of the intermediate variables of the research and are seen as characteristics of innovations (Rogers, 2003). Level of organizational innovativeness is another intermediate variable. For its measurement PORGI standardized scale was used and hence this term is understood as an organizational capacity to introduce new processes, products, or ideas in the organization defined by Hult et al. (2004). Adopter categories are defined by Rogers (2003) as “the classifications of members of a social system on the basis of innovativeness” (p. 22). The rationale behind is understanding that certain individuals are “relatively earlier in adopting new ideas than other members of a system” (Rogers, p. 22). Although the actual time of innovation adoption was not measured in the study, the assumption that individuals with higher levels of innovativeness (measured with IS scale) will be earlier in adopting new ideas allowed to keep such determination.
The general research question arising from such a research topic and theoretical framework were formulated as follows: what are the factors influencing the innovativeness of the members of the Serbian academic community? This was broken down into several more specific questions:
By answering above mentioned questions it was expected to provide a clarification of the current situation when it comes to innovative potential of the academic community in Serbia. Practical implications derived from such scientific analysis may lead to a deeper understanding of the driving forces of change and the ways in which it can be stimulated, as well as what actions can be taken to change the immediate work environment so that the members of the academic community become more receptive to changes.
To perform set tasks and answer the research questions the study used a quantitative-non-experimental method applying both inferential and descriptive statistics in analyzing, presenting, and interpretation of gathered data. Using descriptive or univariate research analysis, general or specific behaviors of variables are observed and measured, independent from each other. This method is used to collect substantial but often inconclusive information on variables behavior tendencies (Ary, Jacobs & Sorensen, 2010). Having these limitations of univariate statistics in mind and given that this study aims to investigate deeper relations between variables, correlational or bivariate procedures were applied as well.
The instrument used in this study was an online questionnaire, including simple and multiple-choice questions as well as a set of statements for which the respondents were expected to indicate their level of agreement using a 5-point Likert scale. The questionnaire was developed in relation to the population of interest – the members of academic community in Serbia - in order to collect data both on their bio-social and work educational characteristics, type of innovation and perceived problems related to introduction of innovations. Three Likert scales were employed to investigate individual innovativeness, attributes of innovations respondents prefer and level of organisational innovativeness. Innovativeness scale (IS) was a scale used for investigating individual innovativeness and the scale used to measure organisational innovativeness is Perceived Organizational Innovativeness (PORGI). Both scales are standardised and widely in use and proven to be highly reliable and valid by different authors.
As field research was conducted using online survey it was necessary to gather all available emails beforehand, therefore the research studied only a portion of available population. Field research was conducted during May in 2014. All identified members of targeted sample were contacted on three occasions via email addresses obtained by previously gathered publicly available data. Targeted sample members were asked to follow the procedure given in the email. After collecting all available email address it was established that the number of cases in such targeted sample counts 5,425 members of academic community on the territory of entire Republic of Serbia. From total sum, the actual sample counted 473 returns which give response rate of 9, 4%. Achieved sample was well representative as far as the university of engagement and area of basic education and work. However, slight over-representation can be noticed of younger age categories which entails higher representativeness of shorter length of work experience categories and lower ranks work title.
After data were collected, statistical processing was applied. The collected data were analyzed quantitatively. Statistical analysis of provided quantitative results was afterwards interpreted on the basis of the theoretical framework. With regards to data analysis procedures, several statistical methods were used. First, to count the number of occurrences in each category of each variable, univariate analysis, i.e. frequencies procedure was applied. This was applied in order to gain description of the sample and to discover responses’ tendencies allowing the comparison between groups of individuals. This was followed by calculating scores for the two standardized scales, IS and PORGI, based on scoring procedures. Frequency tendencies were performed for these scores as well, enabling to discover and to compare the distribution of individuals and organizations in each category. Finally, as this being correlational research, bivariate statistics was applied. Different correlational coefficients were used depending on the measurement levels of variables that were in the focus. As the choice of statistical method depend on the variable’s scale of measurement, different correlation measures were applied according to the types of variables. For correlating two ordinal variables Spearman’s rho coefficient was used while for correlating ordinal and nominal (also dichotomous) Cramer’s V coefficient. One way ANOVA was additionally run for the field of basic education and work engagement factor to determine the difference between respondents groups regarding the level of individual innovativeness and disciplinary field they are coming from. To be more precise, Spearman's rank-order correlation was run to determine the relationship between individual innovativeness level and organizational innovativeness level, attributes of innovations as well as with those parts of independent variable that were presented on ordinal scale (age, financial status , length of work experience and field of basic education and work engagement). Cramer’s V coefficient was performed for nominal scales. For this purposes IS scale was treated as nominal as well.
Achieved sample of the study consisted mostly of younger, female, lower title rank members of the academic community. Majority of them is engaged at University of Belgrade, mostly in social sciences and humanities or in technical and technological disciplines with working experience up to 20 years. Such sample is well representative of population in terms of area of basic education and work and the university of engagement considering the ratio with the size of these universities and their representatives in the sample. Slight over-representation was noticed in younger age categories which entail higher representativeness of shorter length of work experience categories and lower ranks work title.
The first research question was how do bio-social (gender, age etc.) and working-educational (institution of engagement, work title etc.) characteristics influence the level of innovativeness of the Serbian academic community? Data analysis exposed that out of all measured indicators of independent variable only field of basic education and work engagement showed relevancy for the level of individual innovativeness. These findings imply how innovativeness of members of academic community is related with the scientific discipline they are engaged in. As it was addressed in the theoretical framework presented in the study, it was expected that behavior of members of different scientific discipline differs from discipline to discipline, the same can be expected with the regards to the willingness to try and adopt novelties. Data analysis revealed that the highest level of individual innovativeness possess members of academic community engaged in technical and technological scientific disciplines, thus it can be expected that members of these disciplinary fields will be the first to adopt new ideas, practices or products.
The second research question was how do attributes of innovations influence the level of individual innovativeness of the Serbian academic community? It was revealed that none of the innovations attributes defined by Rogers’ DOI theory shows significance in relation with the level of individual innovativeness. This means that there are no characteristics of innovations members of Serbian academic community prefer more than other. In fact, it implies that all innovations have equal chances of being adopted or rejected, and that there is no need of applying special incentives related with investigated attributes for increasing level of individual innovativeness among the members of Serbian academic community. Additional aspects related to the type of innovations were also taken into consideration. Namely, data analysis also showed that the level of individual innovativeness will not vary with any particular type of innovation. Therefore, for the level of individuals’ willingness to try or to adopt new ideas, practices or products it is not important what attributes innovations have nor if they refer to the product, process, organizational or marketing innovation.
The third research question was how does organizational innovativeness influence the level of individual innovativeness of the Serbian academic community? Data analysis revealed that the level of organizational innovativeness is highly related to the level of innovativeness of Serbian academic community. It can be said that one of the initial assumptions that if the HEI is more open to adopting new ideas, practices and products, its employees i.e. the members of academic community will also be more willing to try and adopt new things. These findings imply that organizational culture does influence creating values and beliefs of its employees when it comes to innovation adoption. It can, likewise, be concluded that if flexibility and orientation to changes are dominant forces in an organization the same values can be eventually rooted in individuals’ activities and decision making process regarding innovation adoption and acceptance of changes. Perceived problems related to introduction of innovations in the HE system in Serbia were also analyzed. None of the analyzed problems showed relevance for the level of individual innovativeness.
Final research question was how is innovativeness distributed among the members of the Serbian academic community? Distribution of IS scores gave the answer to this question. Namely, majority of respondents fit into early adopters and early majority categories. Having in mind age characteristics of the sample such distribution means that innovativeness is well distributed among younger members of Serbian academic community. According to Rogers’ descriptions of these adopters’ categories it can be concluded that the members of Serbian academic community (early majority category) mostly have good interaction with other members of the social system, that their time of innovation adoption is usually somewhat longer considering their precaution when making decision on innovation adoption. However, this process is not too long and they do not show too much resistance to novelties. Respondents who tend to fall into early adopters category have more chances to hold leadership roles and they often represent role models for the other members of the community regarding the innovation adoption. As it was indicated in the theoretical framework of the study, the willingness of the individual academic staff to change and to try new things fits in the core of HIEs where the most traditional academic values are rooted. As universities are bottom heavy and resistant to change, to implement changes and to transform a university a “critical mass” of individuals within university needs to show a will to change (Clark, 1998).
It can be concluded based on the research findings that with such detected distribution Serbian academic community has satisfying potential among its younger members to carry out or even to initiate changes on institutional and system level. Bearing in mind central role members of the academic community have in HE system in Serbia and the possibility such position gives them to act as advocates or opponents to changes, determined innovative potential and the level of willingness to try and adopt new ideas may be an indicator that a “critical mass” of innovative individuals exist in Serbian HE system among younger age categories. Key findings of this study revealed indications that a “critical mass” of innovative individuals does exist in Serbian HE system among younger age categories. Such findings not just that reveals current potential, but indicate potential for future courses of actions in HE system. However, with regards to the level of individual innovativeness distribution among members of academic community and considering high percentage of respondents in early adopters category and their theoretical chances to hold leadership positions, it is important that these individuals are elected for, or appointed to, such positions, in order to have more power to implement changes both on the institutional and system level. Developing mechanisms for identifying these individuals may also be one of the practical implications that could be developed from research related to diffusion of innovations. Related to this issue, new associates, or new members of academic community are mostly chosen from the pool of the most successful students, hence it is of utmost importance to apply suitable practices for their identification.
In the long term perspective certain program for stimulating creative and innovative thinking in order to raise innovative potential and create stronger and bigger “critical mass” of innovative individuals could be designed. Besides this, these individuals should be better connected between themselves. Creating opportunities for increasing academic community members’ mobility, both national and international, not just that increases the likelihood of widening professional networks but by sharing new ideas, practices or products related to the science it may lead to scientific discipline development as well. With regards to diversity of academic community according to their disciplines data analysis showed individual innovativeness is correlated with the discipline members of academic community are engaged in. This implies that members coming from certain disciplines are more innovative than members coming from others. Having this in mind it should not be expected that certain reforms will be accepted by all members equally. Discipline field with more innovative members will be faster in adopting a new policy or reform then other. Therefore, policy makers should apply certain adjustments in implementation plans according to these findings. Issues related to quality control, insufficient funding for research or lack of coherency in priorities set by the state and followed by HEIs are issues not solely directed to the level of individual innovativeness among members of academic community in Serbia, yet they all might have certain influence on it. Lack of focus towards applied research and strengthening links between universities and businesses may be seen as one of the reasons for lack of motivation among the members of Serbian academic community to take part in transformative actions of their organizational unites.
To conclude, to innovative way of thinking to become a common “practice” and an integral part of life in higher education field, attitudes of openness to changes among individuals and organizations should be permanently and systematically developed. Individual innovativeness should be fostered through both, bottom-up and up-down models within higher education institutions.
All changes introduced in the theoretical were engaged due to context requirements, research interest and focus, yet the parts of the DOI theory that were not included in this research make a pool of ideas for further studies. Innovations are in the spotlight of HE developments, thus if applied on different populations, types of innovations or on different systems and with shifted foci, many interesting scientific findings can be detected and later applied in the practice. For example, applying either quantitative, qualitative or mixed methods, consequences of innovation adoption with regards to the characteristics of members, nature of the system as well as the nature and the use of innovations could be an interesting research idea for the future study.
With regards to the methodology employed, it was already mentioned that certain compromises were required to be accepted because of the population specificity and researcher’s possibilities. Namely, the only available way for the researcher was to conduct online survey and along with this the only way population could have been reached was via emails. Although this method of field research has a number of advantages, disadvantages that come along could be averted if certain circumstances change. Thus, full representativeness of the sample could be achieved by creating complete population database independent of available e-mail address, and subsequently by extracting stratified random sample just as it was originally conceived in this research. To such random-stratified sample could further be approached in person, face to face, thus avoiding the possibility that the questionnaire respond only those participants who are willing to answer it, those who have access to the information technologies, or feel more comfortable in using them, or at the bottom line, those who are more innovative.
I would like to express my great appreciation to my supervisors Dr. Martina Vukasović and Dr. Attila Pausits for valuable and constructive suggestions as well as for patient guidance during the entire process.
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