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 such as an online forum. 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 well-trained 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.
Always be charming. Smile. Be pleasant. Be Courteous. Moderate your voice so as not to come across as belligerent or aggressive.
Stay focused. If at all possible, write your question down to help you stay focused. Facilitators, when asked questions they don’t 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.
Be persistent. If putting you on the defensive doesn’t work, facilitators often resort to long, drawn out dissertations on some off-the-wall 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 will 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 cry from the populace at large. Eerily, this scenario held great similarity to what has been 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 lets 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 non-directive, neutral, non-judgmental, the opposite is actually true. The facilitator is there to move the meeting to a preset conclusion. This is done through a process known as the Delphi Technique, developed by the RAND Corporation (one of the leading private-sector fronts for Majestic) for the U.S. 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 dis-equilibrium—establishing 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 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 do this. At the point the opposition has been identified and alienated, the facilitator becomes the good guy – a friend – and the agenda and direction of the meeting is established without the audience ever being aware of it.
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 complied by others. Herein lies a very large problem. Who complies 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.” Oh-h! The next question – 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 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 reflected.
So why have the meetings at all if the outcome is already established? Because it is imperative to the continued well being 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 well being of the agenda that the people perceive that their input counts.
This scenario is being used very effectively to move meetings to 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. The reality is the outcome was already established by others, but this is not apparent to the citizen participants.