The Delphi Technique. What Is It?

The Delphi Technique was originally conceived as a way to obtain the opinion of experts without necessarily bringing them together face to face.

In recent times, however, it has taken on an all new meaning and purpose. Now facilitators are used to preserve the illusion that there is "lay, or community, participation (in the decision-making process), while lay citizens were, in fact, being squeezed out."

The setting or group is immaterial; the point is that people in groups tend to share a certain knowledge base and display certain identifiable characteristics (known as group dynamics).

This allows for a special application of a basic technique. The change agent or facilitator goes through the motions of acting as an organizer, getting each person in the target group to elicit expression of their concerns about a program, project, or policy in question.

The facilitator listens attentively, forms "task forces," "urges everyone to make lists," and so on. While she/he is doing this, the facilitator learns something about each member of the target group. S/He identifies the "leaders," the "loud mouths," as well as those who frequently turn sides during the argument - the "weak or noncommittal". Suddenly, the amiable facilitator becomes "devil's advocate." S/He dons his professional agitator hat. Using the "divide and conquer" technique, s/he manipulates one group opinion against the other. This is accomplished by manipulating those who are out of step to appear "ridiculous, unknowledgeable, inarticulate, or dogmatic." S/He wants certain members of the group to become angry, thereby forcing tensions to accelerate. The facilitator is well trained in psychological manipulation. S/He is able to predict the reactions of each group member. Individuals in opposition to the policy or program will be shut out of the group. The method works.

It is very effective with parents, teachers, school children, and any COMMUNITY GROUP. The "targets" rarely, if ever, know that they are being manipulated. Or, if they suspect this is happening, do not know how to end the process. The desired result is for group polarization, and for the facilitator to become accepted as a member of the group and group process. S/He will then throw the desired idea on the table and ask for opinions during discussion. Very soon his/her associates from the divided group begin to adopt the idea as if it were their own, and pressure the entire group to accept the proposition. This technique is a very unethical method of achieving consensus on a controversial topic in group settings.

It requires well-trained professionals who deliberately escalate tension among group members, pitting one faction against the other, so as to make one viewpoint appear ridiculous so the other becomes "sensible" whether such is warranted or not. The Delphi Technique is based on the Hegelian Principle of achieving Oneness of Mind through a three step process of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. In thesis and antithesis, all present their opinion or views on a given subject, establishing views and opposing views. In synthesis, opposites are brought together to form the new thesis. All participants are then to accept ownership of the new thesis and support it, changing their own views to align with the new thesis. Through a continual process of evolution, Oneness of Mind will supposedly occur. The theory of the Delphi and the reality of the Delphi are, obviously, quite different - the reality being that Oneness of Mind does not occur but only the illusion of Oneness of Mind with those who refuse to be Delphi'd being alienated from participating in the process. The effect of this unethical manipulation of people is to create polarized camps.

No opportunity must be left untaken to expose this unethical, divisive process. Second, when this process is used, it can be disrupted. To do so, however, one must be able to recognize when the Delphi Technique is being used, and how to disrupt it.

With thanks to Sandy Vanderberg, Peg Luksik and others.

İMarch 1996; Lynn M Stuter


"Having refused to use their freedom of thought, men claim freedom of speech as compensation." Kierkegaard


See also: Prioritization Process Using Delphi Technique