The Delphi Technique or Delphi Survey is a specific public participation process to address a complex issue that may have more than one way to frame the problem and/or more than one possible solution. The system depends on receiving participation from individuals with different types of expertise or knowledge that is relevant to the issue at hand.
The process starts with a number of key questions. Each participant presents his views and expertise to answer the question(s). As each hears the responses of others, the participant may revise his initial response. In the second round, each participant presents his or her views and expertise as revised during the first round. The same or different questionnaire may be used in each round.
This is repeated with successive rounds. With each round, the goal is to work towards greater clarification and consensus.
Delphi is a very structured process, originally developed by the United States Army Air Forces in 1944. This process can be done face-to-face or in writing via email, snail mail or computer conferencing. In more detail, the process is:
1. A selected number of informed citizens and stakeholders are asked to participate and sit on a panel. This is often between 10 to 30 people. It is important to have a variety of viewpoints, vested interests and technical disciplines on the panel.
2. The panelists are asked to complete a series of questionnaires. Often the questions are written as hypotheses. The questions are written to elicit conflict, disagreement or to clarify position. Answers are essay, or on a scale similar to the Likert scale but without a “neutral” category, or both.
3. After everyone has responded and shared his or her answers with the entire panel, the responses are analyzed and a second questionnaire is designed. It may include the same or different questions than the first questionnaire. Panelists, based on responses from others on the panel, revise their initial views and responses.
4. Numbers two and three are repeated until a consensus is reached or a saturation of opinion occurs.
5. The final step is to prepare a report using the final revised question answers that reflect the consensus, or saturation of opinion, on the best way(s) to frame the problem and solution(s).
The Delphi process’ strength is that it incorporates individuals' education and expertise with consensus building in such a way that data is collected that enables a description of agreement.