In this article Triducive explain the Delphi method advantages and disadvantages to help you decide if this approach is well suited for your research question or problem.
What is the Delphi consensus method?
The Delphi method, also known as the Delphi process or Delphi technique, is a method of communication used to ascertain a group consensus from panels of experts. Using one or more rounds of questionnaires, shared anonymously to participants, with controlled feedback following each round, the Delphi method ensures that decision making is based on the convergence of expert opinion.
The original process was invented by the RAND corporation in the 1950s to survey expert opinion, gather information and forecast impact of new technologies on future defence policy. In more modern times the Delphi consensus method process is a popular method of gaining controlled feedback, group opinion, and to define best practice in healthcare, education, and environmental sciences.
Advantages of the Delphi consensus method
Structured system of communication for clear results
The systematic nature of the Delphi method and the controlled feedback it generates means a conclusion will always be arrived at, and the group achieve consensus in a way that fits the research question with a high level of accuracy.
Anonymity for unbiased responses
Delphi participants offer anonymous responses during the group process. Being able to answer without fear of repercussion or judgement from group opinion encourages honest responses.
Flexibility in geographical location
The Delphi method can be used globally to survey expert opinion around the world. This allows access to a diverse group of experts with expertise in a wider range of fields, markets and locations, removing geographical limitations imposed by some other research techniques.
Removes the impact of dominant individuals
As the Delphi method uses anonymous responses, and lengthy discussions are avoided, each voice is weighted equally in a Delphi study. In-person discussions used in other methods can risk the group consensus being biased by the effect dominant individuals can have on group dynamics during discussions. The utilisation of controlled feedback and anonymity eliminates these obstacles.
Time and cost-effective method of obtaining expert group opinion
Employing the Delphi method using online tools avoids the cost of hiring, and transport to, a set destination for the Delphi method to be implemented. Time consuming, lengthy discussions are avoided due to the controlled feedback the Delphi method uses, and the expert panel are not tied to a set time and date, increasing flexibility and broadening the range of experts you have access to.
Disadvantages of the Delphi consensus method
Limited open discussion
As discussed earlier, the Delphi technique uses controlled feedback, meaning ideas are not openly discussed by participants (questionnaire responders) who may not be able to elaborate in the same way as other research techniques. This is mitigated to a degree by the incorporation of a small expert steering group within the study design. This restriction however may mean that the Delphi method may not be as helpful where opinions are highly polarised and deeper investigation may be required.
Requires commitment if multiple rounds are required
The Delphi method can sometimes require participants to be engaged and respond to more than one round of questionnaires, which may include many similar questions to those already answered. This can cause a practical problem if participants become disengaged or stop responding, affecting the magnitude (and potentially the quality) of the results. Well designed Delphi studies will consider and accommodate this challenge.
Interpretation of study results are highly dependent on responder expertise
The Delphi method is often used where there is no absolute answer to a question existing and opinion is the most valuable data asset available. This places strong importance on the qualification of the responder group in order to answer the survey questions in hand. Unless there is confidence in the level of experience and expertise of the responder group then it will be challenging to reach clear conclusions or recommendations. Again, this is overcome by good study design and well managed processes.
The Delphi consensus method in healthcare
The Delphi consensus method offers a range of benefits over other research methodologies when attempting to resolve a research problem or question which has no clear, existing data driven answer. Care needs to be taken when designing an appropriate Delphi consensus study to consider and manage some of the considerations highlighted here.
Triducive combine healthcare sector experience with expertise in delivering structured expert consensus campaigns from initiation to implementation to create clarity, energy and advocacy around the factors that drive decisions, to create change.
Read our blog to find out more about how delphi is used in healthcare or visit our knowledge hub for more information.