“THE DELPHI TECHNIQUE: How to Achieve a Workable Consensus Within Time Limits"

By Mary McGarr

 Written on October 18, 2005 (updated February 28, 2011, and August 7, 2014)

The Delphi Technique was originally developed by the RAND Corporation for the US Department of Defense as a psychological warfare weapon in the 1950's and 1960's. The technique was for the purpose of being a control mechanism and was utilized by the Federal government. It was a useful tool in that arena.

The fact that this “useful tool” is now used by governments to manipulate citizens who are led to believe that they are a part of a decision-making process, when in fact, they are not, is unconscionable.

In Educating for the New World Order by Bev Eakman, in a discussion of this technique, the reader finds reference upon reference for the need to preserve the illusion that there is “lay, or community, participation in the decision-making process, while in fact lay citizens are being squeezed out.”

Ironically, a specialized use of this technique was developed for teachers called the “Alinsky Method.”  (And this is the father of the Alinsky who is President Obama's cohort.)

The setting or group is, however, immaterial, and the point is that people in groups tend to share a certain knowledge base and display certain identifiable characteristics (known as group dynamics). Group dynamics allow for a special application of a basic technique.

The “change agent” or “facilitator” (the person chosen to direct the process) goes through the motions of acting as an organizer, getting each person in the target group to elicit expression of their concerns about a program, project, or policy in question. The facilitator listens attentively, forms “task forces,” “urges everyone to make lists,” and so on. While she is doing this, the facilitator learns something about each member of the target group. She identifies the “leaders,” the “loud mouths,” as well as those who frequently change sides during the argument- the “weak or non-committal.”  Michelle Hughes, the former KISD employee who was in charge of the Partners in Education program,  was called back to Katy during the 2006 bond election by Superintendent Merrell to "facilitate" the bond committee members. She was called back again in 2014.

Suddenly, the amiable facilitator becomes “devil’s advocate.” She/he dons his professional agitator hat. Using the “divide and conquer” technique, he/she manipulates one group's opinion against the other. This artifice is accomplished by manipulating those who are out of step to appear “ridiculous, unknowledgeable, inarticulate, or dogmatic.” The facilitator wants certain members of the group to become angry, thereby forcing tensions to accelerate. [Think if you will about Keith Carmichael fussing with the other bond committee members! Is that the Keith Carmichael that you know?  Do you think he even realized how he was being used?] The facilitator is well trained in psychological manipulation and is able to predict the reactions of each group member. Individuals in opposition to the policy or program will be shut out of the group. [Mostly they seat like minded people next to those they know might ask too many pertinent questions. They also invite others who have been through the process before, to come back year after year, because if they flip them, then that creates a success that is noted by the others.  I can think of a few committee members who fit this description too, can't you? Feeling stupid?]

The method works. It is very effective with parents, teachers, school children, and any community group. The “targets” rarely, if ever, know that they are being manipulated. If they do suspect this is happening, they do not know how to end the process. They do not want to tell anyone else on the committee what they suspect is going on for fear of being singled out as a traitor!

The desired result is for group polarization and for the facilitator to become accepted as a member of the group and group process. He will then throw the desired idea on the table and ask for opinions during discussion. Very soon his associates from the divided group begin to adopt the idea as if it were their own, and pressure the entire group to accept the proposition. This agreement is accomplished by seating members of the group at different tables from their friends.  There will also be a facilitator at the table.  He/she will be the one who "takes notes," or agrees to "speak for the group," or who asks most of the questions in an effort to direct the work of the group in a pre-determined manner. But this "table facilitator" will never be openly identified as such.  They might be called something else, like a "chairman," but never a "facilitator."

This technique is a very unethical method of achieving consensus on a controversial topic in group settings. It requires well-trained professionals who deliberately escalate tension among group members, pitting one faction against the other, so as to make one viewpoint appear ridiculous so the other becomes “sensible” whether such is warranted or not.

The following passage was written by Lynn M. Stuter. Ms. Stuter is well known for her knowledge of and writings about the implementation of restructured education.


Note: The Delphi is being used at all levels of government to move meetings to preset conclusions [like approval of a bond referendum!]. For the purposes of this dissertation, “facilitator” references anyone who has been trained in the use of the Delphi technique and who is running a meeting.

There are three steps to diffusing the Delphi Technique when facilitators want to steer a group in a specific direction.

1. Always be charming. Smile. Be pleasant. Be Courteous. Moderate your voice so as not to come across as belligerent or aggressive.

2. Stay focused. If at all possible, write your question down to help you stay focused. Facilitators, when asked questions they do not want to answer, often digress from the issue raised and try to work the conversation around to where they can make the individual asking the question look foolish and feel foolish and even appear belligerent or aggressive. The goal is to put the one asking the question on the defensive. Do not fall for this tactic. Always be charming, thus deflecting any insinuation, innuendo, etc. that may be thrown at you in their attempt to put you on the defensive, but bring them back to the question you asked. If they rephrase your question into an accusatory statement (a favorite tactic) simply state, “That is not what I stated. What I asked was... [repeat your question.]” Stay focused on your question.

3. Be persistent. If putting you on the defensive doesn’t work, facilitators often resort to long, drawn out dissertations on some off-the-wall and usually unrelated or vaguely related subject that drags on for several minutes. During that time, the crowd or group usually loses focus on the question asked (which is the intent). Let them finish with their dissertation or expose. Then nicely with focus and persistence, state, “But you didn’t answer my question. My question was...[repeat your question.]”

Never, under any circumstance, become angry. Anger directed at the facilitator will immediately make the facilitator the victim. This defeats the purpose which is to make you the victim. The goal of the facilitator is to make those they are facilitating like them, alienating anyone who might pose a threat to the realization of their agenda. [People with fixed belief systems, who know what they believe and stand on what they believe are obvious threats.] If the participant becomes the victim. the facilitator loses face and favor with the crowd. This is why crowds are broken up into groups of seven or eight, why objections are written on cards, not voiced aloud where they are open to public discussion and public debate. It is called crowd control. It is always good to have someone else, or two or three others who know the Delphi Technique dispersed through the crowd; who, when the facilitator digresses from the question, will stand up and say nicely, “But you didn’t answer that lady/(gentleman)’s question. The facilitator, even if suspecting you are together, certainly will not want to alienate the crowd by making that accusation. Sometimes it only takes one occurrence of this type for the crowd to figure out what is going on. Sometimes it takes more than one. If you have an organized group, meet before the meeting to strategize. Everyone should know their part. Meet after the meeting (somewhere by yourselves) to analyze what went right, what went wrong and why, and what needs to happen the next time around.

Never meet during the meeting. One of the favorite tactics of the facilitator if the meeting is not going the way they want and if they are meeting measurable resistance, is to call a recess. During the recess, the facilitator and his/her spotters (people who wander the room during the course of the meeting, watching the crowd) watch the crowd to see who congregates where, especially those who have offered measurable resistance.

If the resistors congregate in one place, a spotter will usually gravitate to that group to join in the conversation and will report back to the facilitator. When the meeting resumes, the facilitator will steer clear of those who are resistors. Do not congregate. Hang loose and work the crowd. Move to where the facilitators or spotters are. Listen to what they have to say, but do not gravitate to where another member of your team is.

This strategy also works in a face to face, one on one, meeting with anyone who has been trained in how to use the "Delphi Technique.”

Knowing that such antics are entirely possible and probable any time one attends group meetings within a public school district, arms him to stop such manipulation."

Two can play this game.