Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pragmatic Research Design: an Illustration of the Use of the Delphi Technique

This study conducted by two scholars at Rhodes University in South Africa used the Delphi Technique in hopes of forecasting the educational needs that will have to be met to prepare students to be entrepreneurs over the next 20-40 years. This paper does not walk readers through the results of the study, but rather the practical challenges in definitions and the organization of applying the Delphi Technique.

Based on the author’s review of the literature, they identified five main characteristics which define the technique:
  1. Its focus on researching the future or things about which little is known,
  2. Reliance on the use of expert opinion,
  3. Utilizing remote group processes,
  4. The adoption of an iterative research process, and
  5. The creation of a consensus of opinion.
The authors also identify three versions of the Delphi Technique:
  • Numeric – aims to specify a single or minimum range of numeric estimates through the use of summary statistics.
  • Policy - on the exploration, generation and definition of several alternatives and the arguments for and against each of these alternatives.
  • Historic - aims to explain the range of issues that fostered a specific decision, identification of several scenarios that could have led to the resolution of a past problem.
Entrepreneurship was defined as person who provides innovation in an economy, not owners of micro-businesses in saturated markets. The foundation of their study is based on a review of literature that suggests entrepreneurship can be formed through education.

The Experiment:
To comprehensively forecast the answer to their question, they asked three separate questions. The questions were the following:
  1. What sector of the South African economy will most likely offer the greatest potential for entrepreneurial opportunities in the next 25 to 40 years?
  2. What qualities are needed by graduates to equip them to be innovative entrepreneurs in the future?
  3. What should Higher Education in South Africa do to prepare/develop students to constructively participate in the future economy as innovative entrepreneurs?
Three separate panels were created because each question requires answers from a different set of experts.
  1. The panel for the first question was referred to members of government departments and research councils.
  2. The panel for the second question was referred to endowed Chairs in the area of entrepreneurship.
  3. The panel for the third question was referred to alumni of entrepreneurship programs and educationalists and academics in these programs.

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