Delphi Method
(Gordon, Helmer, Dalkey)

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Structuring a group communication process to deal with a complex problem. Explanation of the Delphi Method of T.J. Gordon, Olaf Helmer, Norman Dalkey. ('50s)

Contributed by: Mark Mattingley-Scott


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What is the Delphi Method? Description

The Delphi method from T.J. Gordon, Olaf Helmer, and Norman Dalkey is a technique that can be used to structure a group communication process to deal with a complex problem. The Delphi Method is based on the Dialectical Inquiry approach: Thesis (establishing an opinion or view), Antithesis (conflicting opinion or view) and finally Synthesis (a new agreement or consensus). The synthesis then becomes the new thesis. It helps to build consensus about a particular complex topic. Without the necessity for the contributors to meet in person. A panel of experts formulates a set of hypotheses about the future state of the topic in question. These are distributed to the participants. Their anonymous comments then get integrated into modified hypotheses. The iterative process continues until consensus is achieved on the hypotheses.

Origin of the Delphi Method. History

Of course, the method originates from the modus operandi of the Greek Oracle at Delphi. The modern Delphi concept was a spinoff of defense research. "Project Delphi" was the name given to a Rand Corporation study, starting in the early 1950s, and sponsored by the US Air Force. The study concerned the usage of expert opinion. The objective of the original study was to "obtain the most reliable consensus of opinion of a group of experts ... by a series of intensive questionnaires interspersed with controlled opinion feedback". A 1964 report (by Gordon and Helmer) assessed the direction of long-term trends in science and technology development. The report covered such topics as scientific breakthroughs, population control, automation, space progress, war prevention and weapon systems.

Usage of the Delphi Method. Applications

  • Forecast a specific, single-dimension future issue.
  • Consensus building.
  • Avoiding Groupthink and the Spiral of Silence.
  • Generating creative ideas.

Steps in the Delphi Method. Process

Fowles (1978) describes the following ten steps for the Delphi method:

  1. Formation of a Delphi team to undertake and to monitor the project.
  2. Selection of one or more panels to participate in the exercise. Customarily, the participants are experts in the investigation area.
  3. Development of the first round Delphi questionnaire.
  4. Testing the questionnaire for proper wording (e.g., ambiguities, vagueness).
  5. Transmission of the first questionnaires to the panelists.
  6. Analysis of the first round responses.
  7. Preparation of the second round questionnaires (and possible testing).
  8. Transmission of the second round questionnaires to the panelists.
  9. Analysis of the second round responses. (Steps 7 to 9 are reiterated as long as desired or necessary to achieve stability in the results.)
  10. Preparation of a report by the analysis team to present the conclusions of the exercise.

Strengths of the Delphi Method. Benefits

  • Rapid consensus.
  • Participants can reside anywhere in the world.
  • Coverage of wide range of expertise.
  • Avoids Groupthink.
  • Forecasting a specific, single-dimension question.

Limitations of the Delphi Method. Disadvantages

  • Cross impact is neglected in the original form.
  • Does not cope well with paradigm shifts.
  • Success of the method depends on the quality of the participants.
  • One should watch out for:
    • Imposing preconceptions or Monitor's own view.
    • Ignoring and not sufficiently investigating disagreements.
    • Underestimating the demanding nature of the Delphi Method.

Assumptions of the Delphi Method. Conditions

  • Well-informed individuals, using their insights and experience, are better equipped to predict the future than theoretical approaches or extrapolation of trends.
  • Complex problem.
  • Participating experts have no history of adequate communication.
  • Experts should represent diverse backgrounds with respect to experience or expertise.
  • Exchange of ideas in a meeting is impossible or unpractical.
  • Disagreements are grave or politically unpleasant.

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Compare with Delphi Method: Brainstorming  |  Mind Mapping  |  Groupthink  |  Spiral of Silence  |  Six Thinking Hats  |  Metaplan  |  Scenario Planning  |  Game Theory  |  Cause and Effect Diagram  |  Root Cause Analysis  |  8D Problem Solving  |  Dialectical Inquiry  |  Analogical Strategic Reasoning  |  Pyramid Principle  |  Theory of Constraints  |  Johari Window

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