The Decision to Adopt Evidence-Based and Other Innovative Mental Health Practices: Risky Business?

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A risk-based decision-making framework was used to examine the decision to adopt innovative mental health practices, including both evidence-based and other research-guided practices.


Seventy-eight projects involving decisions to adopt one of four innovative mental health practices were the focus of this study. Key informants with direct knowledge about the adoption decision provided data for hypothesis testing.


As predicted, the propensity to adopt an innovative practice—as measured by decision stage—was negatively related to the perceived risk of adopting the practice, positively related to expected capacity to manage risk, and positively related to an organization's past propensity to take risks. Further, perceived risk, anticipated resource availability, and exposure to field-based evidence explained a substantial part of what differentiated adopters from nonadopters. Finally, several features of innovations known to influence innovation adoption decisions were found to be related in expected ways to perceived risk, capacity to manage risk, and risk propensity.


This research supports the view that the decision to adopt an innovative mental health practice is a decision made in consideration of risk. Contrary to popular views that early adopters of innovations are willing to take enormous risks, these data offer the novel idea that early adopters act because they see the risks associated with adopting as lower than their nonadopter counterparts, partly because the risks are seen as more manageable. Implications of results are discussed for organizations considering adoption of innovative health care practices and for state or local mental health authorities hoping for a higher level of adoption in their areas.

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