June 1, 2023
Delphi? A city in Greece? Yep. But this isn’t about a city in Greece. It’s about a unique and simple way to solve complex problems. So, this article is for all the readers, not just my people. And please, stay with me on this one.
Let’s start with Delphi. It was a town in ancient Greece and site of a celebrated oracle of the god Apollo and Earth goddess Gaea, situated on the slope of Mount Parnassus, about six miles inland from the Gulf of Corinth and considered by the ancient Greeks to be the center of the earth. According to mythology, Apollo defeated the monstrous serpent Python that guarded Gaea and expelled her from the sanctuary, which he then shared with the god Dionysus. The priests at Delphi developed an elaborate ritual, centered on a chief priestess called Pythia. Her utterances (often with multiple meanings) were regarded as the words of Apollo, and the oracle was consulted by private citizens and public officials alike for solutions to various social, business, personal, military, etc., problems.
The Delphi Panel Approach (DPA) has its origin based – there are numerous versions – on the aforementioned oracle at Delphi in Greece (home of the author’s ancestors) that foretold the future. It is rumored that Alexander the Great violated the sacredness of Delphi by forcing Pythia to relent and provide the answer he desired. Since the middle of the late century, this method has been employed by a host of technical individuals – including your author – to solve complex analytical problems. Your author has modestly referred to it as the Theodore Panel Approach; most others refer to it as the aforementioned Delphi Panel Approach.
Here is how it works. Consider a complex risk calculation. At the simplest level, a group of experts are brought together to discuss a risk valuation in order to reach a consensus as to its most appropriate value. The procedure is iterative, with feedback between iterations and involves five steps once the experts have been chosen. These five steps are as follows:
- Select, in isolation, independent estimates of the risk and reasons for justification for the selected value.
- Provide the initial results and reasons of each expert to the other experts.
- Allow each expert to revise his or her initial estimate and provide the reasoning for any change to the initial value.
- Repeat Steps 1 through 3 until a “consensus” value is approached.
- Use the average of the final estimates as the best estimate of the risk.
In effect, the experts get locked in separate rooms, providing independent judgements, until some approach to convergence is achieved. Naturally, the experts (panelists) must be willing to share their knowledge, experience, and information with each other if this effort is to be successful. The experts are usually given at least one opportunity to reevaluate their original solution based upon an examination of the other group member’s response. The approach does not lend itself to precise analytical techniques but benefits from subjective judgements on a collective basis; Time and cost can make frequent group meetings unfeasible, but the efficiency of face-to-face meetings can be increased by a supplemental group communication process.
A more recent approach replaces the panel members to a large degree by a computer which has been programmed to carry out the compilation of the panel results. This has the advantage of eliminating the delay caused in summarizing the results of each round from the panel, thereby turning the process into a near real-time communications system.
There are a host of present and past applications. A partial list is provided below.
- Generating current and historical data not accurately known or available
- Exploring urban and regional planning options
- Delineating the pros and cons associated with potential policy options
- Developing relationships in complex economic or social phenomena
- Obtaining priorities of personal values
- Obtaining priorities of social goals
- Quantifying budget allocations
- Justifying budget allocations
- Obtain priorities of military options
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. How about an example of the DPA? Here’s one that might presently be under consideration at the Pentagon. It concerns the monitoring tension(s) between the US and China. The military would like information on the probability China will launch a surprise nuclear attack on us. Obviously, there is no data, no past history, no source, and no references to refer to. What to do??? Hello DPA!
Here is another example. Both China (more recently) and NASA now claim that water is in a relatively pure state on Mars. The question we need answered is (because of potable water problems existing on planet Earth): provide a best estimate of the quantity of water on Mars. Once again, hello DPA!
Can you think of an application that applies to you (the reader)?
To summarize, the Delphi approach may be characterized as a method for structuring a group communication process so that the process is effective in allowing a group of individuals, as a whole, to deal and solve a complex problem.
Visit the author at:
Basketball Coaching 101 @ Facebook
JULY 1: On Purely, Chaste, Random, Pristine Thoughts XXXII
AUGUST 1: On a Broadway Musical Play Revisited
SEPTEMBER 1: On Technical Writing