Diffusion Associates

Are you seeking to improve the lives of more individuals and help more communities? 

Looking to diffuse an intervention while maintaining its effectiveness? 

Interested in implementing and sustaining an intervention?

Scaling Social Innovations

Effective practices often fail to spread to those in need. When spread does occur, implementation may not be sustained or local adaptation renders the innovation ineffective. We work with program innovators and sponsors to scale out interventions so they can serve more people with comparable benefits. We do this by focusing on the characteristics of the innovation, organizational readiness, community structure, and fidelity. 

Innovation Characteristics

Innovation characteristics describe how we think about new practices and programs. They are the pros and cons, the pluses and minuses. Is it a bargain or too costly? Does it reliably work well? Does it fit with our needs but demand too much of us? Perceived characteristics like these can go a long way in determining receptivity by people to what’s new. Related questions are important too. Are the innovation’s components well defined and tied to a theory of change? Is the innovation central to mission? Which components can be adapted to a local context and which should not? We help to answer these and other questions about innovations to increase and accelerate adoption.

Community Structure

Community structure is the informal network of relationships among potential adopting organizations or communities. When you know who influences whom, you have a chance to increase the number of adopters and the pace of adoption. Which organizations of a certain type are opinion leaders in a county or city? And across counties or cities, which ones do the majority of others look to for advice when confronted with an interesting innovation? We help identify influencers who can move innovations into systems.

Organizational Readiness

Organizational readiness tools can be applied to either the organization that developed the innovation to assess its willingness and capacity to support adoption by others, or the potential adopting organizations as a way to assess their preparation to implement a new practice or program that they will then introduce in a community. Does the developer have the infrastructure to support scaling? Which scaling pathway, and which partners, make the most sense? Who are the likely adopting organizations and communities? What organizational factors are key to effective and sustained use? And for those adopting organizations and communities, are there capacities that they will need but don’t yet have to do a good job with implementation? We help to determine organizational readiness to scale out or adopt, implement, and sustain an innovation.



Fidelity is the extent to which a new practice or program is implemented by subsequent adopters in the way that was intended by its developers. Does the innovation need to be changed to heighten its successful implementation? What types of adaptations are appropriate and, even advantageous? How will implementation and impact be evaluated? We help clarify fidelity expectations and align them with evaluation designs

How We Work

Diffusion Associates works closely with clients who are seeking to scale an innovation and those seeking to implement an evidence-based innovation. We focus on increasing the likelihood of adoption, implementation fidelity, and sustainability. We value a collaborative approach to our work, including working with program evaluators to complement their work. Our approach is theoretically based, practice-focused, and highly customized.

Diffusion Associates is led by R. Sam Larson (Ph.D., Michigan State University). Larson builds collaborative teams drawing on the strengths of researchers and practitioners from across the country. She has led and collaborated on numerous evaluations of educational and social service programs supported by funders such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The Wallace Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the State of Michigan, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She was on faculty at Ohio University and the University of Denver, an internal evaluator and knowledge management director in Kaiser Permanente, and an administrator at Michigan State University.

Recent collaborators include:

James W. Dearing (Ph.D., University of Southern California) is Brandt Endowed Professor in the Department of Communication at Michigan State University. Dearing studies the strategic use of diffusion of innovation concepts to accelerate the spread of evidence-based practices, programs, and policies as a form of translational science. 

Caryn Medved (Ph.D., University of Kansas) is Professor and Graduate Program Director at Baruch College with the City University of New York. Medved has expertise in qualitative methods and offers workshops in qualitative analysis. She has conducted in-depth interview-based research for the last two decades on issues of gender, work, and family. 

Nagesh Rao (Ph.D., Michigan State University) is Professor and Chair of the Department of Social Medicine, Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, at Ohio University. Rao’s scholarly work focuses on cultural competence, diversity, inclusion in health care, and the strategic role of intercultural communication in creating healthy individuals and communities. 

Brandon Walling (Ph.D., Michigan State University) is Health Communication Specialist at The MITRE Corporation. Walling’s work explores mental health communication via mixed methodologies using quantitative and qualitative data analysis. 


Tom Backer (Ph.D., University of California Los Angeles) is Senior Research Fellow, Center for Southern California Studies at California State University Northridge, where he also is Executive Director of Valley Nonprofit Resources. Backer studies and works with people, organizations, and communities to help them meet the challenges of innovation and change.