Futures Essays: Delphi Technique

Author’s Note: In this paper, our class was to explore the Delphi Technique and discuss the pros and cons. This will not be a word for word rekey; some of my grammar and expression was absolutely atrocious, and the professor who graded the paper was quick to note and challenge the missteps.

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I was fascinated by many ideas presented in our recent session on futures studies. The most fascinating of all was the Delphi Technique. Many people prefer to consult with groups of experts instead of just one person when it comes to predicting the effects of current trends on the state of the future; the problem that occurs in many groups, even experts, is that although an individual group member may have better, more important thoughts and ideas, he (or she) many change his opinion to that of the majority to avoid feeling left out or appearing uncooperative. This phenomenon is referred to as “group think” or the “bandwagon effect.” The Delphi technique was formulated to eliminate the “bandwagon effect” and produce an informed foresight of the future minus the poorer ideas supported by more dominant personalities. The Delphi effect consists of three or four steps, each of which has its own benefits and drawbacks.

The first step is to determine the type of foresight necessary to the study I wanted to conduct and to tailor a survey for the experts based on information necessary to the study. (At this point, my professor must have had a massive headache; I just combined two steps into one. Somehow, they must have been linked in my brain.) The benefit is that I can control the flow of information and the experts would only have that information that is pertinent to the study. There are two drawbacks. The first is that I might miss crucial information in what I present. The second is that I construct a survey that channels participants to only provide the answers I want to hear; a slanted survey narrows the focus of participating experts, increasing the chances that possible outcomes are missed.

The second step is to determine who my experts are and invite them to participate. I would want to ensure anonymity is preserved in the interest of overcoming group think. The elimination of group think is one of the major benefits of the Delphi technique. However, there are three potential drawbacks. First, I assume that the experts have more knowledge than I or the general public. Second, I have to rely on the notion I’ve properly identified my experts. Third, although unlikely and far-fetched (maybe not so far-fetched given human nature), is that I cannot control whether the experts remain anonymous and refrain from communication with each other.

The final step is to collect the surveys, collate the feedback, and return the survey feedback to the participants for further consideration and revision. This step would be reiterated until the group came to a consensus of thought regarding the trends affecting the future. The benefit to this step is that I get the foresight in to the future that I need; it is modern and full of conventional wisdom, and it lacks the influence of ties to previous thought. (I just became my own translator. And I’m not sure I translated it properly.) The drawback to this step is that it is time consuming and difficult to get consistency in thought.

I find the Delphi technique incredibly fascinating. In my frequent past group work, I found my ideas were largely ignored even when my presentation was well-formed, organized, and cogent. Sometimes it was because of my gender. Sometimes it was because of my religious or political views. And sometimes, it had to do with some vague, amorphous character quality that was undesirable and therefore made my ideas undesirable. Also, I often refuse to go against the flow of predominant thought because I am quiet and reserved and avoid conflict. Had the Delphi technique been enacted, I would have had an outlet through which I could have expressed myself without fear of discrimination or rejection.

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