Delphi Study: Research by Iterative, Consultative Inquiry

James Neill
Last updated:
26 Apr 2007


What is A Delphi Study?

The Delphi Study process essentially provides an interactive communication structure between the researcher(s) and 'experts' in a field, in order to develop themes, needs, directions or predictions about a topic.

Qualitative and/or quantitative questions can be asked of the 'experts' and the information is then analyzed and fed back to each person, via further questions, and their responses are analyzed and fed back, and so on, until the goal is reached, that is when a consensus is reached which offers synthesis and clarity on the question.

Because the study involves 'experts' it is assumed that some reasonable quality information will be inputted, and because it is an iterative system, it is assumed that good quality knowledge will evolve.

In many ways, it means the researcher is just a good facilitator, but the Delphi study process is a recognized research technique, and brings with it some rigor that this helps to strengthen the validity of the results considerably. 

For example, in "pure" Delphi method research, 'experts' do not directly interact with one another, so as to avoid the social processes and "contaminations" that can happen in group situations.  Instead, the goal of the Delphi process is to systematically facilitate communication of information via several stages of the researcher asking questions, undertaking analysis, providing feedback, and asking further questions.

Other Definitions

Linstone and Turoff (1975, p. 3) proposed a view of the Delphi method that they felt best summarized both the technique and its objective:

"Delphi may be characterized as a method for structuring a group communication process, so that the process is effective in allowing a group of individuals, as a whole, to deal with complex problems".

Some other descriptions of the Delphi method:

"The objective of most Delphi applications is the reliable and creative exploration of ideas or the production of suitable information for decision making. The Delphi Method is based on a structured process for collecting and distilling knowledge from a group of experts by means of a series of questionnaires interspersed with controlled opinion feedback (Adler and Ziglio, 1996). According to Helmer (1977) Delphi represents a useful communication device among a group of experts and thus facilitates the formation of a group judgement. Wissema (1982) underlines the importance of the Delphi Method as a monovariable exploration technique for technology forecasting. He further states that the Delphi method has been developed in order to make discussion between experts possible without permitting a certain social interactive behavior as happens during a normal group discussion and hampers opinion forming. Baldwin (1975) asserts that lacking full scientific knowledge, decision-makers have to rely on their own intuition or on expert opinion. The Delphi method has been widely used to generate forecasts in technology, education, and other fields (Cornish, 1977)."

"Modified Delphi process. To focus in a future-oriented mode, a modified Delphi technique was selected for identifying research and evaluation priorities for distance education. The Delphi technique was originally used to target future problems and foresee solutions. Part of its success lies in its use of experts in the field in question. By utilizing the knowledge of experts, combining it and redistributing it, the study opens up doors and forces new thought processes to emerge. It also allows for respondents to see how closely they responded to the rest of the field of experts and to justify their train of thought (McKillip, 1987)."



Example studies