Boko Haram and Diffusion of Innovation Essay

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Diffusion of innovation theory refers to the spread of ideas, materials, or strategies and can be applied both to counterterrorism policies or terrorist tactics themselves. By paying attention to the patterns of diffusion, governments can make more informed counterterrorism decisions or policies. At the same time, diffusion of innovation can show how terrorist tactics spread from one group to another or how extremism spreads throughout a region.

Applied to Boko Haram, the diffusion of innovation theory can show how terrorist tactics used by one extremist group spread or how extremist ideology spreads from one region or group to another. Likewise, diffusion of innovation can help the government of Nigeria better cultivate an informed and potentially evidence-based response policy by adopting counterterrorism tactics used by other nations in similar situations. For example, Boushey (2012) shows how public policy innovations are diffused. Punctuated equilibrium is a method of diffusion in which feedback both positive and negative informs future policy choices. Another approach would be to use adoption capacity theory to show how certain factors influence a terrorist group's selection of tactics or strategies. Gilli & Gilli (2014) show how terrorist groups change their tactics depending on whether targets are hard or soft, and are more likely to resort to suicide bombings when targets are hard.
Diffusion of innovation theory can be applied to Boko Haram both by reviewing causal factors in the choice to disrupt public infrastructure and also applied to the Nigerian government's counterterrorism responses. However, the Nigerian government has yet to develop a cohesive enough counterterrorism policy to render empirical research worthwhile and it could be more sensible to concentrate on applying diffusion of innovation to Boko Haram in order to better predict and therefore mitigate the spread of the group's ideas and squelch its ability to successfully carry out terrorist attacks, or to emphasize the ways Boko Haram's activities have disrupted the Nigerian economy.

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Research Design

The methodology used for this study will be quantitative and quasi-experimental. A regression discontinuity design or a propensity score matching method are both quasi-experimental design methods that can be used for this research because the research design may require the use of retrospective data related to the Nigerian economy (White & Sabarwal, 2014). A quasi-experimental design can also be used to examine the diffusion of information, ideology, technology, and terrorist techniques throughout the region and within radical Islam. It is also possible to examine the causal effects of radical insurgency on Boko Haram as a control group versus emerging terrorist groups in other countries, or alternatively to examine the differential effects of radical insurgency on various communities in Northern Nigeria. A quantitative, quasi-experimental design is the logical method to answer the research question related to causes and effects of Boko Haram in order to better inform public policy, which can itself be driven by diffusion of innovation process like those described by Boushey (2012).

Research questions include those related to the "breakdown of the social contract," leading to the patterns of behavior evident in terrorist organizations (Osumah, 2013, p. 536). With a lack of cogent counterterrorism policy in Nigeria, there are few mechanisms whereby Boko Haram can be effectively stopped or a means to stop the spreading of radicalism. By applying diffusion of innovation theory in a quantitative study, it may be possible to influence Nigerian policy with the ultimate goal of stopping Boko Haram. Boushey (2012) shows how….....

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Boushey, G. (2012). Punctuated Equilibrium Theory and the Diffusion of Innovations. Policy Studies Journal 40(1): p. 127

Gilli, A. & Gilli, M. (2014). The Spread of Military Innovations: Adoption Capacity Theory, Tactical Incentives, and the Case of Suicide Terrorism. Security Studies, 23:513 -- 547.

Osumah, O. (2013). Boko Haram insurgency in Northern Nigeria and the vicious cycle of internal insecurity. Small Wars and Insurgencies 24(3): 536-560.

White, H. & Sabarwal, S. (2014). Quasi-experimental design and methods. UNICEF. Retrieved online:

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