This article describes the concept of the Delphi Technique, developed by RAND Corporation in a practical way. After reading you will understand the basics of this powerful decision making and problem solving tool.
What is the Delphi Technique?
The Delphi Technique started out as a technique to predict the future. It was developed by the RAND Corporation in 1950, as for the US air force. The RAND Corporation is an American think-tank that was founded in 1946 by the US air force. A few years later, it became an independent non-profit. Originally, the Delphi Technique was aimed at predicting the impact of technology on warfare.
For this decision making method, a group of experts are asked to anonymously answer a survey and provide feedback on each other’s answers. This process repeats itself. The aim is to come up with concrete solutions.
The Delphi Technique uses a carefully designed list of questions that is developed and refined in several rounds. Sometimes, interviews are used. The experts in question answer the questionnaire anonymously and are then confronted with each other’s knowledge and views. They do not know each other and do not know who else is in the panel of experts.
There is a feedback mechanism; obtained information is recorded and reported to participants regularly, as part of a new attempt at information processing. The feedback is not just about the actual future expectations that are being expressed, but also the arguments and considerations that underpin these expectations. In this way, you can work towards a well-founded joint position.
By confronting the participants with each other’s ideas and insights in each new round, you can work towards a consensus. In this way, the Delphi Method asks experts for their recommendations. The number of participants is not relevant. However, there must be the assurance that different interests and problem definitions are addressed, so that a problem or topic is viewed from different perspectives and discussed, and all participants respect each other’s contributions.
The Delphi Technique is part of the research technique that is also known as ‘interactive survey’, which involves dialogue with the public. It is based on an articulate research field, which in principle is capable of introducing the necessary expertise. It aims for a solution that consists of knowledge from the research field, rather than knowledge about it. Important elements within the Delphi method are:
- It uses the opinions of a limited group of experts or people who have knowledge of the subject from their experience.
- The subjects that an organisation wants to understand through the Delphi method are obtained by subjective means; the opinions of the group of experts are therefore very important.
- The group of experts works towards a consensus, through step-by-step feedback of information, by repeating the question and providing feedback on each other’s answers.
The possible applications of Delphi are endless. It is not only applicable for making forecasts or future forecasts, but it can also be useful for determining complicated policy decisions. In principle, the Delphi Technique can be properly applied for the following situations:
- For an organisation in which the formal and informal communication lines have become blocked or are lacking. The anonymous method prevents personal contact, which means that stuck relationships do not get damaged any further and there is more room for new solutions and more respect for each other’s opinions.
- In the case of problems that can be solved mainly when multiple experts are confronted with each other’s varying visions. Everyone’s individual subjective opinion contributes, so that their shared thinking will lead to an effective approach.
- In the case of solutions that are too subject to individual opinions and perceptions of those involved, it may help to work with an anonymous group who independently express their views on the problem.
- In the absence of objective data, such as customer reviews and other audience reviews. When the opinion of all these groups is important in a specific problem solving, the Delphi Method works very well.
The great advantage of the Delphi Technique is the anonymity. It is not shared who the participants are or who provided the information. This prevents distortion that can sometimes occur when participants conform to the opinion of an expert who has very high prestige.
Delphi Technique example
Suppose there is a problem in a municipality regarding informing residents in different districts. If the Delphi Technique were to be used for this problem, this municipality would initially appoint a project leader and gather a group of experts involved in this problem statement. With the Delphi Method, the experts in the field of communication to citizens are systematically used to address this problem.
In the first round of the method, participants will fill in a questionnaire, with concrete questions about the problem statement. The project leader then compiles a summary of all completed questionnaires, which is then returned to all participants. By sharing all the views and relevant information, participants will be better able to reflect on their own views.
In the second round, participants re-enter the questionnaire. After each round, experts’ answers will become more similar without affecting each other. Of course, their own opinions and ideas are subjective and based on everyone’s individual experience or knowledge.
The experts are people working in research fields that directly relate to communication between residents and municipalities. For example, consider a representative from every neighbourhood, a communications officer from the municipality, a communications agency employee and a local newspaper representative.
The query and feedback process is repeated until a consensus is reached between the participants. Finally, by combining the expertise of the experts, recommendations can be formulated based on the more complete information, resulting in high-quality and useful recommendations.
Delphi Technique versus brainstorming
The Delphi Technique is often compared to brainstorming. These is one essential difference between the Delphi Technique and the brainstorm technique: with the Delphi Technique, there is no direct group interaction. The participants do not engage in conversation with each other, cannot discuss with each other and do not build on each other’s ideas, as is done in brainstorming.
With the Delphi Technique, you gain insight into each other’s individual ideas and later, in the second session, you can delve into those and further build upon those. Whereas a brainstorming session is known for interactive group meetings, the Delphi Method involves individually thinking about the problem.
It’s Your Turn
What do you think? Is the Delphi Technique applicable in today’s modern business and team challenges? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more suggestions? What are your success factors for a good decision making process?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Dalkey, N. C., Brown, B. B., & Cochran, S. (1969). The Delphi method: An experimental study of group opinion (Vol. 3). Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation.
- Linstone, H. A., & Turoff, M. (Eds.). (1975). The Delphi method: Techniques and applications (Vol. 29). Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
- Rowe, G., & Wright, G. (1999). The Delphi technique as a forecasting tool: issues and analysis. International journal of forecasting, 15(4), 353-375.
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