The Delphi method was developed in the 1950’s with the purpose of soliciting expert opinion in order to reach consensus (Dalkey & Helmer, 1963, p. 458). It was so named because it was originally developed as a systematic, interactive means of forecasting or prediction, much like ancient Grecians came to the Oracle at Delphi to hear of their fortunes. The approach relies on a collection of opinions from a panel of experts in a domain of real-world knowledge, and aggregates those decisions to reach consensus around a topic. It is different from traditional surveys in that it is an attempt to identify what could, or should be, as opposed to what is (Miller, 2006).
Delphi studies are generally used to (Delbecq, Van de Ven & Gustafson, 1975, pg. 11): •Determine or develop a range of possible program alternatives •Explore or expose underlying assumptions or information leading to different judgments •Seek out information which may generate a consensus on the part of the respondent group •Correlate informed judgments on a topic spanning a wide range of disciplines •Educate the respondent group as to the diverse and interrelated aspects of the topic
Some of the other key features in Delphi survey research is that the participants are unknown to each other and that the process is iterative, with each subsequent round being derived from the results of the previous one. In other words, each participant receives a summary of the range of opinions from the previous round, and is given an opportunity to reassess their own opinions based on the feedback of other panelists. This controlled feedback helps to reduce the effect of noise, defined as communication which distorts the data as it relates to individual interests and bias, rather than problem solving. The feedback occurs in the form of a summary of the prior iteration, distributed to the panel as an opportunity to generate additional insights and clarify what was captured in the previous iteration (Dalkey, 1972). In addition, participants need not be geographically collocated (i.e. can be physically dispersed). This provides some level of anonymity, which also serves to reduce the effect of dominant individuals and group pressure to conform.
Within the context of clinical education, Delphi studies have been used to develop assessment practices that are not always easy to define. The modifiable behaviours and clinical competence that clinical educators are interested in are not particularly the concepts and skills covered in the classroom, but rather their application in practice. Assessment of the knowledge and skills required for competent practice usually takes the form of a sampling of a small subset of the total possible range of items, since it isn’t feasible to assess all possible combinations. In addition, not all clinicians agree on what the most important components of practice and assessment are. The Delphi method is therefore an appropriate methodological approach that can be used to gain consensus around the critical issue of what to assess, how it should be assessed and what strategies can be used to improve practice. Delphi studies have been used in healthcare for the planning of services, analysis of professional characteristics and competencies, assessment tool design and curriculum (Cross, 1999; Powell, 2003; Joseph, Hendricks & Frantz, 2011).
Designing a Delphi study
The most important aspect of your Delphi study will be participant selection, as this will directly influence the quality of the results you obtain (Judd, 1972; Taylor & Judd, 1989; Jacobs, 1996). Participants who are selected to participate in a Delphi survey are usually experts in the field, and should provide valuable input to improve the understanding of problems, opportunities and solutions. Having said that, there is no standard description of who should be included in the panel, nor what an “expert” is (Kaplan, 1971). Although there are no set...
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