Thursday, September 17, 2015

A few people have the strange idea that the Delphi method is sneaky and subversive


P wrote:
You wouldn't think that the Delphi method is controversial.
Well, get ready!  I stumbled upon a set of videos that claim that the Delphi technique is the way that decision makers can give a group the appearance of participation and input when they are really going to do what they had decided beforehand.

What?  Manipulating groups does happen, but how does the Delphi get blamed for that?
So it's a mystery to me how the Delphi technique gets the blame for people manipulating groups.  Go figure!...

Dan responds:
Interesting question!
The Delphi method appears to have gotten onto the radar screens of certain US political extremists. Extreme views in general get disproportionate play on the web, including youtube. So I do not think it is really controversial at this time but rather a lot of shouting from the fringe. In my half-hearted attempt to track down the origin of the effort to villify the Delphi method, I found that a lot (maybe all?) of it is a reaction to a book "Educating for the New World Order" by a Beverly Eakman (, who at first glance has strong education credentials but the least amount of digging reveals to hold fringe views. I tried to get a copy of the book through interlibrary loan to see what it said about the Delphi method but they could not find a copy, and I'd rather not purchase one. So why did she use the term "Delphi method" in the book? There is some hysteria inspired by this book that associates the Delphi method (or more accurately a corruption of it) with a much better-known, different book entitled "Rules for Radicals" ( by Saul Alinsky. I do not have a copy of it but would like to know if that book uses the term "Delphi method." If it does, then that might be the original source of the corrupted use of the term. If not, then I don't know why Eakman focused in on the term.

    I did a little more digging on this. Since it seemed that most if not all of the "controversy" seemed to derive from the 1991 book "Educating for the New World Order" by a B. K. Eakman, I finally got a copy of the book. So I can confirm that that book contains a number of strange statements about the Delphi Method that more recent sources seem to repeat and even paraphrase or quote. For example:
- "The Delphi Technique ... is a very unethical method of achieving 'agreement' on a controversial topic ..." - p. 38
-"... turn potentially hostile groups ... into acquiescent ... bodies by means of ...'the Delphi Technique.'" - p. 118
- "A specialized application of this technique applied specifically to teachers is called the Alinsky Method." p. 124

The essence of it is that Dept. of Education bureaucrats were using sneaky group manipulation techniques to hoodwink parents nationwide into agreeing to updates in school curricula, using the secretive and evil "Delphi Technique."

One might naturally wonder where Eakman got her information, and she does give one citation, along with a boring and insignificant quote from it. It was to a chapter in a 1974 book "Crucial Issues in Testing," which I was actually able to find without much trouble. So I got it this morning and checked the citation. That chapter does mention the Delphi technique, but only in a very normal way.

So I can only conclude that Eakman was confused. But the book was influential in that corner of the political universe and so the author's misuse of the term "Delphi" has become something of a meme
among a small (I hope) extremist community.

Best Regards,
I think this could be a useful bit of information. Practitioners, for example, might like to use the term "Delphi method" instead of "Delphi Technique" if only because the anomalous use seems to almost always use the term "Delphi Technique." I sort of hate to say it, but if there is a significant danger that clients might look it up ahead of a workshop or something like that, and be misled, then practitioners might want to not focus on the term in promotion or planning ahead of the workshop, to head off the possibility that a client would look it up ahead of time and be misled. But they should certainly use the method, calling it by name, during the event.