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Wednesday, June 28, 2017


Questionable public policy occasionally develops under the illusion of broad public support when in fact most of the public remains blissfully ignorant that the issue even exists. It is disconcerting to watch the agendas of small obscure but vocal minorities become public policy. It happens too often and by design.

In the late 1950s the RAND Corporation developed a decision-making tool used to analyze input from subject-matter experts. This provided the basis for reaching an optimum decision based upon forecasted outcomes. Delphi Technique was the name given to this legitimate forecasting tool. As a forecasting technique, it was used to predict technological developments using repeated iterations of estimates and feedback from experts until consensus occurred. The technique has been applied to such diverse activities as software development cost-estimations, decision-making at the National Cancer Institute and forecasting of US financial markets.

Over the years, the Delphi Technique migrated from RAND’s original intent of forecasting outcomes to a tool for controlling consensus. What was once used as a decision-making tool now finds use as a tool for building consensus around pre-determined outcomes.

Modified versions of the Delphi Technique find application in an ethically questionable procedure now widely used in state and federal governments and in the private sector to frame public policy. Using quiet manipulation, the Delphi Technique separates supporters from detractors of a desired outcome or a pre-determined position. Opponents of the pre-determined position, usually a few brave and knowledgeable souls with legitimate reservations, find themselves the butt of group dynamics administered by a skillful facilitator.

Applications of the Delphi Technique vary. The 1970s and 1980s saw the technique used to persuade land owners to accept controversial zoning ordinances. It was also employed to persuade communities to accept major shifts in education policy under the umbrella of Goals 2000.

As currently employed, the Delphi Technique leads a target group of people to a pre-determined outcome while giving the illusion of considering public input under the pretext of accountability. For the Delphi Technique to work, the target group must be isolated from knowledgeable opponents who could turn the target group away from the pre-determined outcome.

One variation of the Delphi Technique uses a series of meetings to influence the outcome. Attendees are assigned to groups. The purpose is to break up cliques of knowledgeable opponents to the pre-determined outcome. This forces the opposition to sit with strangers thereby enhancing the effects of peer pressure.

Typically, a facilitator, positioned as the “good guy,” is trained to “steer” the group toward the desired end. Participants in each group are instructed to answer a set of questions and arrive at a group consensus. A spokesperson is chosen to speak for the group. This may be a person pre-briefed about the desired outcome.

Anyone knowledgeable or brave enough, to speak in opposition is noted. Tactfully, the facilitator will attempt to quiet, isolate or discredit the dissenter. Opponents may feel uneasy that they are in disagreement with the apparent majority. The Delphi Technique succeeds by bluffing people into submission.

Another variation of the Delphi Technique arrives at consensus through a series of surveys. We have all received such surveys in the mail although not all employ the Delphi Technique. Surveys gather information regarding the wishes of the target public. Concurrently, the surveys initiate manipulation toward the desired outcome. Survey questions elicit responses arrayed from “Most important” to “Least important.” Or they may elicit responses arrayed from “Agree all the time” to “Agree never.” All the while, the survey desensitizes and “educates” the respondents. Future surveys analyze previous survey input to then ask leading questions and move the target audience toward consensus.

On a humorous note, the jargon associated with the process appears a bit amusing. For example, all who have an interest in a pre-determined outcome are called “stakeholders.” And here I thought a steak holder was a device for cooking meat. The interaction needed to gain consensus is referred to as “collaboration.” How times change. This term has been used to refer to those who cooperated with the enemy. Oh well.

Watch for the Delphi Technique in the public arena as it is used to advance any number of minority agendas from homsexual rights to environmental extremist views. Maintaining the illusion of wide public acceptance of minority viewpoints by isolating and bypassing sporadic public opposition is useful as a form of governance.


Dennis M. Patrick can be contacted at P. O. Box 337, Stanley, ND 58784 or (JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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