Using the Delphi method to engage stakeholders in these COVID-19 times

Monday, April 6, 2020

As the health sector and researchers seek to adapt to the changing circumstances in which we are now working, new ways of engaging with stakeholders are needed.

‘An effective methodology that the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) has used to engage stakeholders where face-to-face contact is not possible is the Delphi method’, says AHHA Chief Executive Alison Verhoeven.

Named after the ancient Oracle of Delphi, the method was originally conceived in 1944 to forecast the impact of technology on warfare. It has been adapted and modified in thousands of ways since.

The method works on the premise that group opinion is more valid than individual opinion. It is especially useful for obtaining and integrating the opinions of a group of expert individuals about a complex problem or issue—particularly where there is incomplete knowledge.

‘The latest Perspectives Brief from the AHHA’s Deeble Institute for Health Policy Research looks at opportunities to conduct health sector consultations when traditional methodologies are not able to be used’, Ms Verhoeven said.

The use of Delphi method for remote consultations discusses considerations when designing engagement activities, including leveraging strengths, mitigating risks, and adapting the method to best meet the purposes of the engagement.

‘At its core the Delphi method uses a series of carefully designed, anonymous, sequential questionnaires, interspersed with controlled information and feedback, to achieve the most reliable consensus of group opinion.

‘The method can be superior to traditional roundtable discussions, where outcomes can become a compromise between divergent views, or unduly reflect the views of the participants with the loudest voices. Roundtable discussions can also be influenced by an unwillingness to abandon publicly expressed opinions in front of a group, as well as the “bandwagon” effect of majority opinion’, Ms Verhoeven said.

‘With the Delphi method, respondents are able to raise aspects of discussion that might not normally have influenced the opinions of others, with others then able to independently re-evaluate their earlier responses based on these alternative perspectives.’

‘The method generally works best with 10 to 50 individuals involved, although it has been used with groups of up to 1,000 people. Experts must be chosen carefully to reflect a diversity of areas of expertise and perspectives, including the end-user perspective.

‘The Delphi method has been criticised by some as a move away from quantitative scientific evidence to qualitative opinion. However, for many issues, COVID-19 included, quantitative evidence can be lacking or inconclusive, yet it’s important that good decisions based on collective expertise be made right now.

‘The Delphi method has been proven to yield good, defensible results. Nevertheless, good question design, collation of responses, research and dissemination of outcomes are critical, as is the administering team’s ability to construct further questions to support experts in re-evaluating their original responses.’

The use of Delphi method for remote consultations is available here. More information on the Deeble Institute for Health Policy Research is available here.

The AHHA’s Just Health consultancy services are available to support organisations undertaking consultation processes.  We regularly develop custom surveys, facilitate focus groups and adapt methodologies that enable clients to engage with stakeholders in a meaningful way. More information is available here.


Media enquiries: Alison Verhoeven, Chief Executive, AHHA, 0403 282 501