The Delphi method is a survey-based framework for estimating the likelihood and outcome of future events. The Delphi method is a survey-based framework for estimating the likelihood and outcome of future events. It was developed in response to military strategy formation during the Cold War. The Delphi method has been adapted considerably since the 1960s.
Understanding the Delphi method
The Delphi method was developed during the 1950s and 1960s to forecast the impact of technology on warfare. At the time, experts were asked to give their personal opinion on the probability, intensity, and frequency of enemy attacks during the Cold War. Opinions could be offered anonymously, and the process was repeated until a consensus became apparent.
Today, the Delphi method remains a structured and systematic forecasting process based on multiple rounds of questionnaires sent to a panel of experts. The method has been used to predict trends in automation, aerospace, and the use of technology in schools. Furthermore, the Delphi method can predict outcomes in business forecasting, policy formation, clinical work, and project management.
Delphi method characteristics
Although there is considerable variation in how the Delphi method is applied, there do exist some generally accepted characteristics in the form of best practices:
- It must incorporate a group of participants, or panelists, selected for their relevant and specialized knowledge on a topic. A neutral facilitator with knowledge of research and data collection is also recommended.
- An initial idea generation stage should be held to get a broad sense of the most important issues.
- It is often conducted across a series of two or more sequential questionnaires. Ideas collected from the first questionnaire should then be used to construct the second questionnaire, and so on.
- After each questionnaire round, there is an evaluation phase. Here, the panelists are provided with the overall panel response and asked to re-evaluate their standpoint by the facilitator. If a consensus is not reached, another round of questioning occurs.
Strengths and weaknesses of the Delphi method
- Diversity of opinion – the Delphi method is an effective way to assemble a diverse range of experts and then aggregate their opinions. The anonymity afforded by the framework also encourages each expert to share their true feelings.
- Versatility – as noted earlier, the technique can be used to tackle a wide variety of issues, subjects, or situations. There is also no requirement that the experts meet in person.
- Equality – the response of each expert is weighted equally. This democratic process ensures dominant personalities do not hijack the discussion or shift the prevailing opinion of the group.
- Lack of clarity – many practitioners struggle with the lack of clarity around what constitutes consensus. Since it is highly unlikely a panel will reach 100% agreement, the integrity of the method may be compromised if a cut-off level is not established beforehand.
- Limited scope – the Delphi method is effective when the only way to generate insight is via expert opinion. In an evidence-based scenario such as healthcare intervention, the method may have limited use.
- Intensiveness – Delphi studies can be complex and time-consuming, particularly if a consensus is not reached early. Some experts may become disenfranchised and deliberately alter their views to conclude the process. Others may shift their stance during the evaluation phase to comply with the majority view. This phenomenon is called the bandwagon effect.
- The Delphi method is a survey-based framework for estimating the likelihood and outcome of future events. It was developed in response to military strategy formation during the Cold War.
- The Delphi method has been adapted considerably since the 1960s. For best results, a facilitator must lead the panel through a series of iterative, reflective, and evaluative questionnaires until a consensus is reached.
- The Delphi method encourages diversity and equality of opinion and has no locational constraints. However, it does not provide detailed guidance on group consensus and may be complex and time-consuming to complete.
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