The perks of Delphi survey


Delphi survey is a technique that enables a creation of a variety of future scenarios in a free-of-power-relations environment. It is named after the Delphi temple in ancient Greece, and is also built on the old Delphi “core method”: collective knowledge. In old Greece oracle Pythia based her future telling on the whispers of the priests, modern Delphi is based on the knowledge from the experts from various fields. But there is also a big difference.

Frank von Meijenfeldt, a Delphi researcher for 36 years, explains the differences between the two: “Old Delphi was about forecasting the future. Whereas the modern Delphi is an attempt to envisage a variety of futures: a possible future, or a probable future, or a preferable future – the three “P”-s, – in a very elaborative way: encompassing the roles and tasks for all actors involved, and giving “action perspectives”. Through a Delphi panel, future can be seen as a self-fulfilling prophecy, or a self-denying prophecy. It devises several future possibilities, and elaborates the important players and the steps to make in each of them – so, for everybody involved, it opens the way to act according to their own most preferable future. When you envisage a future you don’t like, you are going to work at not letting it happen, right?”

“The second difference, what I especially like about the modern Delphi, is that its course and outcome(s) follow the power of the arguments, and not the power of the people, authority, or money; while in the “old” Delphi, one person, “authority” made the choices for the final prophecy. Firstly, the panellists are anonymous to each other, free to speak (or actually: write, this is an writing survey!), without worrying that their answers might not be “politically correct”. Secondly, it is an iterative process: in several rounds, the panellists get the questions on the same issue, each time enriched with the arguments of all the people who are participating. They see their own argument next to the argument of other, not knowing whether it’s their boss, a local politician or the neighbour next door. They can look at the various ideas, weigh between their insights and the insights of all the other people, and decide what to do further – without the burden of power-relations. The argument is what counts (and decides), not the social or economic position of a person. The end is open: upon the last round, the panellists may come to a consensus, or to a dis-sensus – to agree to disagree. They may converge to a new argument. Or maybe it becomes clear to them how much and deep are the differences, they see: those people think this, but I am on a totally other path. In both cases, in any case, it gives people freedom to make up their minds, and to think about what they can do to make their preferable future happen”.

For Frank, the most beautiful Delphi version – amongst many variants developed since the mid-20th century, when Delphi panel came into being – is a Policy Delphi, which focuses on designing/creating a policy to let the future happen in the way we prefer, according to the preferable scenario, the third “P”.

The Specially Unknown Delphi panel on cultural participation in nine EU countries, which Frank coordinates, is a variant of a Policy Delphi. The panellists are people working in the field of cultural participation of refugees in very different countries and political and social contexts: from Greece, to Hungary, to Sweden, Germany, Portugal and Belgium. They are confronted with how people in other countries are working on the same issue. “This Delphi is not working towards consensus”, says Frank “every country has its own policies, and what works in one country, doesn’t work in another. But – people can get inspired, can learn from others, and maybe they can try other people’s methods in their own country. That’s the idea, what are we working towards, where we are heading to.

The Specially Unknown Delphi survey on cultural participation of refugees is at the moment at the 2nd round, the answers are being integrated and the questions for the 3rd and final round are being constructed. More about its content – in our June Newsletter.


Links to the other articles of the 2nd newsletter: