The Delphi Method by Theodore J. Gordon

Topics: Futurology, Question, Forecasting Pages: 55 (12471 words) Published: October 2, 2012
Futures Research Methodology—V3.0

The Millennium Project


Theodore J. Gordon

I. History of the Method
II. Description of the Method
III. How to Do It
IV. Strengths and Weaknesses of the Method
V. Frontiers of the Method
VI. Samples of Applications

The Millennium Project

Futures Research Methodology—V3.0

Some contents of this report have been taken, in some cases verbatim, from internal papers of The Futures Group with their permission. These papers were written by John G. Stover, Theodore J. Gordon, and others describing the Delphi method and its applications. The managing editor also gratefully acknowledges the contributions of reviewers of the draft of this paper: Dr. Ian Miles of The Programme of Policy Research in Engineering Science and Technology, in the United Kingdom; Dr. Brian Free of the Futures Environment Council of Alberta, Canada; Dr. Mika Mannermaa of the Futures Research Centre at Turku School of Economics, Turku, Finland; Dr. Harold A. Linstone of Portland State University, United States; and Dr. Peter Bishop of the University of Houston, in the United States. And finally, special thanks to Elizabeth Florescu and Neda Zawahri for project support, Barry Bluestein for research and computer operations and Sheila Harty for editing.

The Delphi Method


The Millennium Project

Futures Research Methodology—V3.0

The modern renaissance of futures research began with the Delphi technique at RAND, the Santa Monica, California, "think tank" in the early 1960s. The questions of RAND thinkers, at the time, primarily dealt with the military potential of future technology and potential political issues and their resolution. The forecasting approaches that could be used in such applications were quite limited and included simulation gaming (individuals acting out the parts of nations or political factions) and genius forecasting (a single expert or expert panel addressing the issues of concern). Quantitative simulation modeling was quite primitive, and computers that would ultimately make such quantitative techniques practical, were not yet capable enough. The RAND researchers explored the use of expert panels to address forecasting issues. Their reasoning went something like this: experts, particularly when they agree, are more likely than non-experts to be correct about questions in their field. However, they found that bringing experts together in a conference room introduces factors that may have little to do with the issue at hand. For example, the loudest voice rather than the soundest argument may carry the day; or, a person may be reluctant to abandon a previously stated opinion in front of his peers. As with normal thinkers, the give-and-take of such face-to-face confrontations often gets in the way of a true debate.

One of the little known in-house research projects undertaken by RAND at the time involved combining opinions of horse-racing handicappers. These people, after all, are supposedly experts in their field. Furthermore, their opinions about the future (the outcome of horse races) are published daily and can be checked against reality within 24 hours. So a project was implemented to determine just how to combine horse-race forecasts by different experts to improve the likelihood that the composite opinion was better than any single expert. The work on the Delphi method followed. Olaf Helmer, Nicholas Rescher, Norman Dalkey, and others at RAND developed the Delphi method, which was designed to remove conference room impediments to a true expert consensus. The name, of course, was drawn (humorously, they thought) from the site of the Greek oracle at Delphi where necromancers foretold the future using hallucinogenic vapors and animal entrails. They began from a philosophical base and asked initially, "just how much could be known about the future?" (Helmer and Rescher, 1959) The Delphi...

Bibliography: using hallucinogenic vapors and animal entrails. They began from a philosophical base and
asked initially, "just how much could be known about the future?" (Helmer and Rescher, 1959)
The temptation to review all of the forecasts with the advantage of hindsight is great (one such
review was done by Amant in 1970), but a cursory review shows many forecasts that were on
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