On the positive side, though again as a strictly practical, non-theoretical matter, Delphi appears to have a number of important advantages as a group evaluation or forecasting technique. It is not difficult to explain the essence of the method to potential participants or to one's superiors. It is quite likely that some types of forecasts could not be obtained from a group without the guarantee of anonymity and the opportunity for second thoughts in later rounds (certainly true when hostile stake holders are jointly evaluating the implications of policy actions that might affect them differently). Areas of agreement and disagreement within the panel can be readily identified, thanks to the straightforward presentation of data. Perhaps most important, every participant's opinion can be heard on the forecasts in every round, and every participant has the opportunity to comment on every qualitative argument or assessment. For this reason, it becomes much easier to determine the uncertainties that responsible persons have about the problem under study. If the panelists are chosen carefully, a full spectrum of hopes, fears, and other expectations can be defined.
The natural question to ask here is: If the outcome was preordained the meeting took place, why have the meeting? Herein lies thegenius of this Delphi Technique.
The Rand Corporation: The Think Tank That Controls …
For example, in a study by Boucher and Neufeld (I 98 1), a set of I I I trends was forecast 20 years hence both mathematically (using an ARMA technique) and judgmentally (using the Delphi technique). Analysis of the results showed that the average difference between the two sets of forecasts was over 15 percent. By the first forecasted year (which was less than a year from the date of the completion of the Delphi), the divergence already than 10 percent; by the 20th year, it had reached 20 percent. This result is interesting because even experienced managers usually accept mathematical forecasts uncritically. They like their apparent scientific objectivity, they have been trained in school to accept their plausibility, and acceptance has been reinforced by an endless stream of such projections from government, academia, and other organizations. Seeing judgmental and mathematical results side-by-side can thus be most instructive. Moreover, as some futures researchers believe, if the difference between such a pair of projections is 10 percent or more, it is probably worth examining in depth.
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This very effective technique is being used, over and over and over, tochange our form of government from the representative republic, intended by theFounding Fathers, into a “participatory democracy." Now,citizens chosen at large are manipulated into accepting preset outcomes whilethey believe that the input they provided produced the outcomes which are nowtheirs! The reality is that the final outcome was already determined longbefore any public meetings took place, determined by individuals unknown to thepublic. Can you say “Conspiracy?”
How to Choose the Right Forecasting Technique
These difficulties have not deterred many traditional analysts and long-range forecasters from using such methods and thereby generating dubious advice for their sponsors. Within futures research, however, thesetechniques--when used well--are applied in a very distinctive way. The objective is not to foretell the future, which is obviously impossible, but to provide purely extrapolative base-line projections to use as a point of reference when obtaining projections of the same trends by more appropriate methods. What would the world look like if past and current forces for change were allowed to play themselves out? What if nothing novel ever happened again? The only value of these mathematical forecasting techniques in futures research is to provide answers to these remarkably speculative questions. But once they are answered, a reference will have been established for getting on with more serious forecasting.