The Delphi method was originally developed in the early 1950s at the RAND Corporation by Olaf Helmer and Norman Dalkey to systematically solicit the view of experts related to national defense and later in controversial sociopolitical areas of discourse (Custer, Scarcella, Stewart, 1999).
The term originates from Greek mythology. Delphi was the site of the Delphic oracle, the most important oracle in the classical Greek world. Thus, the Delphi method may thought of as an expert brainstorm.
In Delphi decision groups, a series of questionnaires, surveys, etc. are sent to selected respondents (the Delphi group) through a facilitator who oversees responses of their panel of experts. The group does not meet face-to-face. All communication is normally in writing (letters or email). Members of the groups are selected because they are experts or they have relevant information.
The responses are collected and analyzed to determine conflicting viewpoints on each point. The process continues in order to work towards synthesis and building consensus.
The process works as follows:
- Members are selected for the Delphi panel due to their expertise.
- They are kept separated and answer through an open-ended questionnaires, surveys, etc. in order to solicit specific information about a subject or content area. Keeping them separated avoids the negative effects of face-to-face discussions and avoids problems associated with group dynamics.
- Members are asked to share their assessment and explanation of a problem or predict a future state of affairs.
- The facilitator (panel director) controls the interactions among the participants by processing the information and filtering out irrelevant content.
- Replies are gathered, summarized, and then fed back to all the group members.
- Members then make another decision based upon the new information.
- The process is repeated until the the responses converge satisfactory, that is, it yields consensus.
The success of this process depends upon the member's expertise and communication skill. Also, each response requires adequate time for reflection and analysis. The major merits of the Delphi process are:
- Elimination of interpersonal problems.
- Efficient use of expert's time.
- Diversity of ideals.
- Accuracy of solutions and predictions.
Custer, R. L., Scarcella, J. A., Stewart, B. R. (1999). The Modified Delphi Technique - A Rotational Modification. Journal of Vocational and Technical Education. Vol. 15, Num. 2, Spring 1999. Retrieved March 5, 2010: http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/JVTE/v15n2/custer.html