THE DELPHI TECHNIQUE
How to achieve a workable consensus within time limits
by Lynn Stuter
The Delphi Technique was originally conceived as a way to obtain the
opinion of experts without necessarily bringing them together face to face.
In Educating for the New World Order by Bev Eakman, the reader finds reference
upon reference for the need to preserve the illusion that there is "Lay,
or community, participation in the decisionmaking process), while
in fact lay citizens are being squeezed out."
A specialized use of this technique was developed for teachers, the
"Alinsky Method" (ibid., p. 123). The setting or group is, however,
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 is doing this, the facilitator
learns something about each member of the target group. He/she 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." He/she dons his professional agitator hat. Using the "divide and conquer" technique, he/she 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." He/she 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. If they do suspect this is happening, they 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. He/she 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 welltrained 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.
DISRUPTING THE DELPHI
Note: The Delphi is being used at all levels of government to move meetings
to preset conclusions. For the purposes of this dissertation, "facilitator"
references anyone who has been trained in use of the Delphi and who is
running a meeting.
There are three steps to diffusing the Delphi Technique when facilitators
want to steer a group in a specific direction.
2. Stay focused. If at all possible, write your question down to help you stay focused. Facilitators, when asked questions they dent want to answer, often digress from the issue raised and try to work the conversation around to where they can make the individual asking the question look foolish or feel foolish, appear belligerent or aggressive. The goal is to put the one asking the question on the defensive. Do not fall for this tactic. Always be charming, thus deflecting any insinuation. Innuendo, etc. that may be thrown at you in their attempt to put you on the defensive, but bring them back to the question you asked. If they rephrase your question into an accusatory statement (a favorite tactic) simply state, "That is not what I stated. What I asked was... [repeat your question.]" Stay focused on your question.
3. Be persistent. If putting you on the defensive doesn't work, facilitators often resort to long, drawn out dissertations on some offthewall and usually unrelated or vaguely related subject that drags on for several minutes. During that time, the crowd or group usually loses focus on the question asked (which is the intent). Let them finish with their dissertation or expose. Then nicely with focus and persistence, state, "But you didn't answer my question. My question was...[repeat your question.]"
Always be charming, stay focused and be persistent. Never, under any circumstance, become angry. Anger directed at the facilitator will immediately make the facilitator the victim. This defeats the purpose which is to make you the victim. The goal of the facilitator is to make those they are facilitating like them, alienating anyone who might pose a threat to the realization of their agenda. [People with fixed belief systems, who know what they believe and stand on what they believe are obvious threats.] If the participant becomes the victim. the facilitator loses face and favor with the crowd. This is why crowds are broken up into groups of seven or eight, why objections are written on cards, not voiced aloud where they are open to public discussion and public debate. It's called crowd control.
It is always good to have someone else, or two or three others who know the Delphi Technique dispersed through the crowd; who, when the facilitator digresses from the question. will stand up and say nicely, "But you didn't answer that lady (/gentleman)'s question The facilitator, even if suspecting you are together, certainly will not want to alienate the crowd by making that accusation. Sometimes it only takes one occurrence of this type for the crowd to figure out what s going on. Sometimes it takes more than one.
If you have an organized group, meet before the meting to strategize. Everyone should know their part. Meet after the meeting to analyze what went right, what went wrong and why, and what needs to happen the next time around. Never meet during the meeting. One of the favorite tactics of the facilitator if the meeting is not going the way they want if they are meeting measurable resistance, is to call a recess. During the recess, the facilitator and his/her spotters (people who wander the room during the course of the meeting, watching the crowd) watch the crowd to see who congregates where, especially those who have offered measurable resistance. If the resistors congregate in one place, a spotter will usually gravitate to that group to join in the conversation and will report back to the facilitator. When the meeting resumes. the facilitator wi11 steer clear of those who are resistors . Do not congregate. Hang loose and work the crowd. Move to where the facilitators or spotters are. Listen to what they have to say, but do not gravitate to where another member of your team is. This strategy also works in a face to face, one on one, meeting with anyone who has been trained in how to use the Delphi Technique.
FROM A REPRESENTATIVE REPUBLIC TO A PARTICIPATORY DEMOCRACY
With the advent of education reform, the ensuing turmoil among the citizenry, and the grassroots research that has been sparked therefrom, a consistent pattern with respect to public participation and input has emerged, giving cause for alarm among people who cherish the form of government established by our founding fathers. Recent events, both inside and outside education have brought the emerging picture into focus.
In the not too distant past. The hiring of a consultant by the City of Spokane to the tune of $47.000 to facilitate the direction of city government brought a hue and or from the populace at large. Eerily, this scenario held great similarity to what has bean happening in education reform. The final link came in the form of an editorial comment made by
Chris Peck regarding the "Pizza papers." The editorial talks
about how groups of disenfranchised citizens were brought together to enter
into a discussion of what they felt (as opposed to know) needed to be changed
at the local level . The outcome of the compilation of those discussions
influenced the writing of the city/county charter.
Sounds innocuous enough. But let s examine this a little closer, Let's
walk through the scenario that occurs in these facilitated meetings. First,
about the facilitator. The facilitator is hired to facilitate the meeting.
While his/her job is supposedly nondirective, neutral, nonjudgmental,
the opposite is actually truethe facilitator is there to move
the meeting in a preset conclusion. This is done through a process known
as the Delphi Technique, developed by the RAND Corporation for the US.
Department of Defense as a psychological warfare weapon in the 50s and
60s. Comforting, no doubt. With this established, let's move on to the
semantics of the meeting.
It is imperative to the success of the agenda that the participants
like the facilitator. Therefore. the facilitator first works the crowd
to cause disequilibriumestablishing a bad guy, good guy scenario.
Anyone who might not agree with the facilitator must be seen by the participants
as the bad guy, the facilitator the good guy. This is done by seeking out
those who might not agree with the facilitator and making them look foolish,
inept, or aggressive, sending a clear message to the audience that it if
they don't want the same treatment to keep quiet. The facilitator is well
trained in how to recognize and exploit many different psychological truisms
to dothis. At the point that the opposition has bean identified and alienated,
the facilitator becomes the good guya friendand the
agenda and direction of the meeting is established without the audience
ever being aware of th same.
Next, the attendees are broken up into smaller groups usually of seven or eight people each group with a facilitator. Discussion ensues wherein the participants are encouraged to discuss preset issues, the group facilitator employing the same tactics as the lead facilitator. Usually participants are encouraged to put on paper their ideas and disagreements, these to be later compiled by others. Herein lies a very large problem. Who compiles what is written on the sheets of paper, note cards, etc.? When you ask the participants, you usually get, "Well, they compiled the results." Who is "they?" "Well, those running the meeting." Ohh! The next question is How do you know that what you wrote on your sheet of paper was incorporated into the final outcome? The answer you usually get is, "Well, you know, I've wondered about that, because what I wrote doesn't seem to be reflected here. I guess my viewpoint was in the minority." And there you have the crux of the s situation If you have fifty people in a room, each writes his/her ideas and dislikes on a sheet of paper, to be compiled later into a final outcome, each individual having no idea of what any other individual wrote. How do you know that the final outcome reflects anyone's input? The answer is
you don't. The same scenario holds when there is a facilitator recording
your comments on paper. But the participants usually don't question this,
figuring instead that their viewpoint was in the minority and thus not
So why have the meetings at all if the outcome is already established? Because it is imperative to the continued wellbeing of the agenda that the people be facilitated into ownership of the preset outcome. If people believe the idea is theirs, they support it: If the people believe the idea is being foisted on them, they will resist. Likewise, it is imperative to the continued wellbeing of the agenda that the people perceive that their input counts. This scenario is being used very effectively to move meetings to a preset conclusion, effectively changing our form of government from a representative form of government in which individuals are elected to represent the people. to a "participatory democracy" in which citizens, selected at large, are facilitated into ownership of preset outcomes, perceiving that their input resulted therein, when the reality is that the outcome was already established by people not apparent to the citizen participants.