Delphi Technique

You’ll be pleased to know that this week’s blog is not about reading … for a change!

When they needed advice on any major or minor undertaking, ancient Greeks would consult the Oracle of Delphi. The Oracle would then pass on messages from the god Apollo to those consulting her. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), you can’t consult the Oracle of Delphi anymore. However, it is possible to consult modern Oracles using the “Delphi Technique”.

The Delphi Technique is based on the idea that some people are better at forecasting future events than others. Therefore, if you want to explore a topic and generate hypotheses or clarify topics to produce more comprehensive ideas, then you should ask these people for their opinions.

This is where a diverse platform, like PurpleBeach really comes into its own. The diverse backgrounds of PurpleBeach curators allows you to both find and consult experts in a wide range of fields. Furthermore, the events that PurpleBeach hosts are an equally exciting way to get the views and opinions of different people. And, as you will see, its diversity of opinions and insights that makes the Delphi Technique such a useful tool.

As with the previous weeks, it goes without saying that you’re going to use the Delphi Technique to look for trends to help you identify possible, probable and preferable futures.

So how do you use the Delphi Technique? I have outlined some steps below for you …

1. Selecting Your Respondents

As I mentioned above, diversity of opinions is key to the Delphi Technique. This means that you need to make sure (i) you have a diversity of experts from within the field you’re researching, but (ii) also a diversity of experts from different fields.

Consulting a variety of experts from within a field not only surfaces conflicting opinions, but also allows you to tease out synergies in the various opinions. This makes the selection process so important.

But it’s also a good idea to get the opinions of experts from fields other than the one you’re researching. For example, you may not be looking for ideas on rocket science, but maybe an astronaut can offer your some useful insights into your business problem. Maybe not. But you will never know if you don’t ask! If you do want to consult an astronaut, just ask Annemie how.

These points highlight an important aspect of using the Delphi Technique (and future studies for that matter) – you have to be receptive to new ideas and differing opinions.

2. Formulate Questions That Will Produce Substantive Answers

Have you ever watched an interview with a celebrity that turns into a car-crash interview when the only answers the celebrity gives to the interviewer are “yes” or “no”? That’s what you’re trying to avoid.

While it’s good to include some questions where the answers may simply be “yes” or “no”, you are looking for substantive responses, so frame your questions accordingly.

3. Interview the Respondents

One thing to bear in mind when conducting the interviews is how you will record the respondents’ answers. This could mean using a digital voice recorder or taking a scribe along to note the answers.

But you also need to decide how you’re going to conduct the interviews. Are you going to interview the experts all together; in groups; or individually?

When using the Delphi Technique, my personal preference is to interview respondents individually. However, if two or more people work together (business partners, for example), it may make sense to interview the people together so that you get the full range of opinions from within that group of people.

I tend to avoid interviewing entire groups of experts together in order to (i) try avoid groupthink and (ii) keep the identities and answers of the respondents confidential. This is to try avoid an expert pre-empting another expert’s possible responses. You’re looking for that respondent’s ideas and opinions, not someone else’s.

4. Compile the Results

This is code for “late nights to meet your deadlines”. But basically, you need to compile all the results into a first draft report. When compiling a report I’ve found it quite useful to split out individual respondents’ answers to questions and then try group all the related answers back together under broad headings.

5. Ask for the Respondents’ Comments on the Results

Once you have compiled your first set of results it is important to get the respondents’ feedback on that set of results. This is useful since it will allow you to either (i) cover some issues with a respondent that they didn’t raise but other respondents did; or (ii) ask additional questions to drill down a bit more into specific issues.

6. Compile the Final Results

This is code for “more late nights as you try to meet the fast-approaching deadline”. But in essence, this step is about compiling a final report of the outcomes of the exercise.

7. That’s Rather Time Consuming …

So now you hopefully have your final report. But as you will have noted from the above, the Delphi Technique is time consuming.

However, it is important to note that having just one round of interviews with respondents may not be sufficient to provide you with either the detailed responses you need, or the ability to go back and ask additional questions, if necessary.

There is also no rule that says you have to limit yourself to two sets of interviews. In some cases it may make sense to include a third round. Just bear in mind that this could mean the entire process takes between 3 – 4 months.

One possible solution to deal with the issue of time could be to run a “real-time Delphi exercise”. This involves using computers to guide respondents through a prepared set of questions where the next question they are asked is dependent on their response to the previous question.

So we’ve covered how to identify trends. Now we need to start interpreting trends and telling stories about them. But more on that next week!

Thought from the Lifeguard’s Hut

Deep listening from the heart is one half of true communication. Speaking from the heart is the other half

– Sara Paddison

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