Research is a fact-finding process that aims at providing a solution to a problem. It is a systematic activity so several research approaches are available for arriving at solutions after the study. One of such research approaches is the Delphi method which is a popular and user-friendly approach every researcher should know.
The Delphi method is research technique method which relies on a panel of experts to arrive at conclusion. Also known as the Delphi technique, this method is a research process used to arrive at a group opinion or decision by surveying a panel of experts. The researcher identifies experts on the subject of study who then respond to several rounds of questionnaires, and the responses are put together and shared with the group after each round.
According to Duncan Haughey, the Delphi Technique estimates the likelihood and outcome of future events. Here’s how it works. A group of experts exchange views, and each independently gives estimates and assumptions to a facilitator who reviews the data and issues a summary report. Since this is a repetitive process involving different stages, the group members discuss and review the summary report, and give updated forecasts to the facilitator, who again reviews the material and issues a second report. This process continues into the final stage where all participants reach a consensus. The final stage is determined by the fact that a consensus has been arrived at. If this happens at the third stage, it is good for the researcher, at least to save time.
The researcher could be the facilitator or a research assistant could be engaged to do the work. The facilitator gives each expert at each round a full record of what forecasts other experts have made, but they do not know who made which forecast. Anonymity allows the experts to express their opinions freely, encourages openness and avoids admitting errors by revising earlier forecasts.
According to Duncan Haughey, the Delphi technique is a repetitive process, and first aims to get a broad range of opinions from the group of experts. The results of the first round of questions, when summarised, provide the basis for the second round of questions. Results from the second round of questions feed into the third and final round.
The Delphi method uses a repetitive process to clarify and expand on issues, identify areas of agreement or disagreement and begin to find consensus. At the end, the result is factual and reliable.
The Delphi technique operates through stages before arriving at final results. Here’s the process involved in using the Delphi method, according to Duncan Haughey;
Step 1: Choose a Facilitator
The first step you take is to choose your facilitator. As the researcher you can double as the facilitator, or you can find a neutral person within your organisation. It is useful to have someone that is familiar with research and data collection.
Step 2: Identify Your Experts
Next step is to find the experts that will be part of the panel. The Delphi technique relies on a panel of experts. This panel may be your project team, including the customer, or other experts from within your organisation or industry. Experts must have relevant knowledge and experience in the subject or topic of study.
Step 3: Define the Problem
Every research work begins with a problem. It is the solution to that problem that informed the study. What is the problem or issue you are seeking to understand? The experts need to know what problem they are commenting on, so ensure you provide a precise and comprehensive definition.
Step 4: Round One Questions
Ask general questions to gain a broad understanding of the experts view on future events. The questions may go out in the form of a questionnaire or survey. Collate and summarise the responses, removing any irrelevant material and looking for common viewpoints.
Step 5: Round Two Questions
Based on the answers to the first questions, the next questions should delve deeper into the topic to clarify specific issues. These questions may also go out in the form of a questionnaire or survey. Again, collate and summarise the results, removing any irrelevant material and look for the common ground. Remember, we are seeking to build consensus.
Step 6: Round Three Questions
The final questionnaire aims to focus on supporting decision making. Hone in on the areas of agreement. What is it the experts are all agreed upon?
You may wish to have more than three rounds of questioning to reach a closer consensus.
Step 7: Act on Your Findings
The third round usually marks the end of the engagement with experts. After this round of questions, hopefully your experts will have reached a consensus and you will have a view of future events. Analyse the findings and put plans in place to deal with future risks and opportunities to your project.
The Delphi method is a reliable research approach you can use in field survey. It is better used in a mixed method approach to strengthen the findings from other research approaches combined in a research task.