What is the Delphi Method?

Darlene Goodman

The Delphi Method is a collaborative process for formulating predictions about a variety of future trends. It typically seeks to bring expert opinions together to create a consensus of where a technology or movement might lead. This forecasting method often employs a questionnaire, which helps group members to read each other’s answers and formulate predictions. In most instances, those polled maintain anonymity throughout the process, in an effort to reduce the amount of influence the group has on each answer.

The Delphi method often employs a questionnaire, which helps group members to read each other’s answers and formulate predictions.
The Delphi method often employs a questionnaire, which helps group members to read each other’s answers and formulate predictions.

The Delphi Method was developed during the Cold War to predict development of weapons and arsenals. It has since been adopted by organizations to predict other trends. Examples of how this method may be used today include predicting the results of a potential global crisis, the timeframe in which scientists may discover a cure for cancer, or how technological advances may affect entertainment industries.

This process can be imprecise. Advocates of the Delphi Method believe that the members of the panel — usually experts in their field — have a more complete knowledge of the possible outcomes than laypeople do. This superior knowledge may allow panelists to formulate more accurate predictions. Also, the answers are drawn from group knowledge, rather than the predictions of individuals. The anonymous questionnaires potentially limit bias as well.

The Delphi Method involves several steps. First, the problem or issue is defined for the group. This step usually takes the form of a questionnaire. Each member formulates answers or position statements, and submits them to the facilitator.

Next, the Delphi Method facilitator organizes the answers and gives them back to the group. Depending on the type of issue, number of questions, and goals of the process, the facilitator may organize the answers into categories. The categories are typically meant to show the level of consensus between the experts. Some Delphi Method programs do not allow for answers to be categorized, fearing the groupings may bias the members’ interpretations.

A third step in the Delphi Method involves allowing the group to analyze all the responses. Some members may wish to revise their earlier answers at this point. Then, the group rates each answer before calling for another round of discussion. These new responses typically go through anonymous organization and submission again.

This process is generally repeated until the group reaches a pre-defined stopping point. The Delphi Method may end after reaching a certain number of questionnaire rounds, the achievement of consensus, or when the members stop revising their answers. The group’s final prediction is usually the average answer of the group after several rounds of discussion.

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Discussion Comments


The idea of "delphi" comes from the Greek consultation of the oracle at delphi. When making an important decision, they would consult this oracle to determine the steps they should take. The oracle was said to communicate directly with the gods and served as a mediator between the mortal and immortal in relation to future events.


I think that these groups may form to become a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. If a future trend is determined, businesses will respond according to that trend, and cause it to happen by their reaction. This makes it hard to prove whether or not the outcome was due to happen before they made their response.



I think you are correct in saying that there are limits to thinking ahead, but we should not dismiss prediction outright because of this. Many trends are predictable, and businesses would be making a mistake in passing up an opportunity to increase their chances.


People can't see the future. The randomness inherent in societal trends is everywhere. Black swan theory shows that most important historic events tend to be free-radicals which can't be predicted. Even if people get together to share ideas and make a prognosticating think-tank, there are very clear limits to what they can do.

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