Diffusion theory and knowledge dissemination, utilization, and integration in public health

Annu Rev Public Health. 2009:30:151-74. doi: 10.1146/annurev.publhealth.031308.100049.


Legislators and their scientific beneficiaries express growing concerns that the fruits of their investment in health research are not reaching the public, policy makers, and practitioners with evidence-based practices. Practitioners and the public lament the lack of relevance and fit of evidence that reaches them and barriers to their implementation of it. Much has been written about this gap in medicine, much less in public health. We review the concepts that have guided or misguided public health in their attempts to bridge science and practice through dissemination and implementation. Beginning with diffusion theory, which inspired much of public health's work on dissemination, we compare diffusion, dissemination, and implementation with related notions that have served other fields in bridging science and practice. Finally, we suggest ways to blend diffusion with other theory and evidence in guiding a more decentralized approach to dissemination and implementation in public health, including changes in the ways we produce the science itself.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Community Health Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Diffusion of Innovation*
  • Evidence-Based Practice
  • Health Policy
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination*
  • Interinstitutional Relations
  • Knowledge
  • Public Health Practice*
  • Social Support
  • United States