The Delphi technique: how does it work?
The Delphi technique (or method) is a way to combine important opinions toward a single business decision.
It can benefit boards and senior management teams, particularly when faced with challenging, complex governance conundrums.
How does the Delphi technique work?
It works through anonymous collective critique. Experts give feedback on critical business questions, analyse what each other said without knowing who said it, and then give their feedback again.
Here’s a simple example:
If a business asks, ‘should we do X?’, the experts will answer either ‘no’ or ‘yes’ and then say why. After reading over everyone else’s responses (anonymously), they get a chance to answer the question again, explaining their change of mind if necessary.
The basic idea is that repeating this process enough times will lead the entire team of experts towards one conclusion.
Sometimes it works; sometimes, it doesn’t. Ultimately, though, the technique enjoys popularity, so you should know how it operates.
Delphi technique checklist
You need the following essentials to make decisions based on the Delphi technique.
- A business decision that you’re not sure about
- A panel of experts
- Questions for that panel based on the business decision
- A facilitator
- Sufficient time
The key people in a Delphi process explained
The corporate team, which asks the question
In a governance context, this is the board. It may also involve the executive team.
The team has a question they need to answer, and they feel they can’t do it through their normal decision-making process. Often, this is because they think it is too complex or needs expert opinion that they can’t provide.
The panel of experts
This is a separate group from the corporate team. The panel can be as few as ten or as many as fifty people. They are experts in the relevant field and will have a lot to say on the subject.
The facilitator handles each step of the Delphi process. They convey the corporate team’s questions to the panel and convey the panel’s answers back.
It is the facilitator’s job to be impartial as they handle both sets of information and to ensure every panellist remains completely anonymous, both to other panellists and the corporate team.
How does the Delphi technique work?
Once the panel is in place, the corporate team have identified their decision and line of questioning; the following will take place:
- The facilitator will convey the questions to the panel through a questionnaire.
- QUESTIONNAIRE ROUND 1: The panel will individually and privately answer those questions
- The facilitator analyses the responses and highlights emerging themes, trends and observations. The corporate team can also offer input at this stage.
- QUESTIONNAIRE ROUND 2: The facilitator submits observations from round 1 (with the corporate team’s input if necessary) to the panel, who now have the chance to amend or expand on their original answers.
- The facilitator repeats step 3 in conjunction with the corporate team.
- QUESTIONNAIRE ROUND 3: The facilitator submits new questions based on all the feedback so far.
- The facilitator collates the responses with the corporate team’s observations.
- QUESTIONNAIRE ROUND 4: The facilitator repeats step 6 with further refined questions.
The process usually concludes after four rounds of questionnaires. By this point, the facilitator and corporate team should clearly understand the panellists’ collective conclusion.
This is more likely to happen if the questionnaires have been well thought out and structured to their maximum potential. If four rounds don’t deliver a conclusion, run more until one emerges.
During the process, the corporate team can also identify priorities and submit these in a questionnaire round. The panellists can then rank these priorities in importance. This addition is a handy guiding tool.