What are Delphi studies?

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Whenever developing training competencies, tools to support clinical practice or a response to a professional issue, seeking the opinion of experts is a common approach. By working to identify a consensus position, researchers can report findings on a specific question (or set of questions) that are based on the knowledge and experience of experts in their field.

However, there are challenges to this approach. For example, what should be done when consensus cannot be reached? How can experts be engaged in a way that allows them to consider objectively the views of others and—where appropriate—change their own opinions in response? One approach that attempts to provide a clear method for gathering expert opinion is the Delphi technique.

The Delphi technique was first developed in the 1950s by Norman Dalkey and Olaf Helmer in an attempt to gain reliable expert consensus. Specifically, they developed an approach—named after the Ancient Greek Oracle of Delphi, who could predict the future—which promoted anonymity and avoided direct confrontation between experts, so that the methods employed “…appear to be more conducive to independent thought on the part of the experts and to aid them in the gradual formation of a considered opinion”.1 Though the original Delphi study was linked to the defence industry, the technique has spread to other research areas, including nursing.2

Characteristics of Delphi studies

As with all research methods, the Delphi technique has evolved since it was first reported on in the 1960s. However, many of the fundamental characteristics of the approach still remain from Dalkey and Helmer’s original outline. First, the overarching approach is based on a …

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