Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Delphi Technique

What is it?
The Delphi Technique is a method for structuring a group communication process so that the process is effective in allowing a group of individuals, as a whole, to deal with a complex problem, according to Linstone and Turoff.

Where does it come from?
Delphi was developed by the Rand Corporation in the 1950s, funded by the U.S. Air Force, to find a way to establish reliable consensus of opinion among a group of experts about how Soviet military planners might target the US industrial system in an attack and how many atomic bombs would be needed to have a specified level of impact on U.S. military capability.

What is it used for?
It is widely used for more peaceful purposes today, but with the same underlying rationale: to establish as objectively as possible a consensus on a complex problem, in circumstances where accurate information does not exist or is impossible to obtain economically, or inputs to conventional decision making for example by a committee meeting face-to-face are so subjective that they risk drowning out individuals’ critical judgments.

The typical features of a Delphi procedure are an expert panel; a series of rounds in which information is collected from panelists, analyzed and fed back to them as the basis for subsequent rounds; an opportunity for individuals to revise their judgments on the basis of this feedback; and some degree of anonymity for their individual contributions.

The UK government commonly uses Delphi to make decisions or allocate resources in the health service, a classic context in which demand for resources will always outstrip their availability. Delphi is also mentioned in business texts under decision making techniques, along with other structured approaches such as the Nominal Group Technique. They allow complex decision­making and creative problem­-solving in a way which avoids the drawbacks of conventional meetings with unstructured, free­-flowing interaction and minimal direction such as
  • High variability in participant behavior and group social behavior · Discussion falls into a rut or goes off at tangents
  • The absence of an opportunity to think through independent ideas results in generalizations
  • High status or dominant personalities dominate discussions and decisions
  • Unequal participation among those present
  • Meetings conclude with a perceived lack of accomplishment
The basic method to implement Delphi as described by Delbecq et al is:
  1. develop an initial questionnaire and distribute it to the panel
  2. panelists independently form ideas to answer the questionnaire and return it
  3. the moderator summarizes the responses to the first questionnaire and
    develops a feedback report along with the second set of questionnaires
    for the panelists
  4. panelists independently evaluate earlier responses and vote on the second questionnaire
  5. the moderator develops a final summary and feedback report to the group
    and decision makers
Some variations to this very basic method include:
  • The number of iterations (the more rounds, the closer the consensus likely to be reached)
  • The method of selection and size of the panel
  • The scoring system and the rules used to aggregate the judgments of the panelists
  • The extent of anonymity afforded to the panelists
  • How consensus is defined and how disagreements are dealt with
This article, written by Nic Underhill, provides a very concise overview of what the Delphi technique is to the average person. Unfortunately, he does not identify any potential strengths and/or weaknesses of the technique which significantly diminishes the utility of his article. Although he introduces the reader to the Delphi technique, he does not give that person any direction in how to apply it to his/her own unique situation.

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps the US could try applying the Delphi technique to our current health care situation. It might help alleviate some of the problems facing our system today.