Delphi Technique - how to manipulate public meetings


Public meetings concerning refugee resettlement can be covertly manipulated in order to achieve precise results desired by the facilitator. This method is being used in several settings to short-circuit legitimate concerns of local residents regarding forced resettlement of Syrian refugees in their communities.

How many refugees does your state accept?

As pointed out in the article Beware the Delphi Technique! This time in Billings, Montana, a Billings Montana Presbyterian Church plans to hold a community meeting about Syrian refugees. The Delphi Technique will be used to implicitly manipulate the outcome of the meeting:

"Participants will join in small groups, with some members in favor of settling Syrian refugees in Montana and others who are concerned about the safety and security of citizens if Syrian refugees are permitted. A facilitator will encourage each person to tell his or her story and background, after which participants will explore any areas of common agreement. [Keep in mind that this ‘story and background’ mumbo jumbo is just one more strategy used to play on your emotions and stop logical debate.—ed]"

The Delphi Technique was developed in the 1950s by the RAND Corporation for the U.S. Department of Defense. It was originally intended as a psychological weapon for use during the cold war. However, the technique is effective in manipulating any meeting toward a predetermined end. The steps of the technique include:

  1. The facilitator (the change agent) must be someone with whom most of the audience can identify.
  2. The facilitator initially identifies potential opponents and frames them as foolish, aggressive, etc., thus warming the rest of the audience to the facilitator.
  3. The audience is broken into six or eight discussion groups, with topics chosen by the facilitator. Typically, members are asked to write down concerns and turn them in to the facilitator.
  4. The facilitator selects only concerns from the compilation that are consistent with the desired outcome. These concerns are then addressed in the final discussion, which ultimately supports the desired results. 
  5. The participants and the community at large are told that the conclusions reached at the meeting were the result of open public participation. 

Here is more information about the Delphi Technique:

The Delphi Technique: Let's Stop Being Manipulated! by Albert V. Burns, Virginia Land Rights Coalition. This article describes the technique and includes approaches that can be used to neutralize the technique, which include:
  • Never, never lose your temper!
  • Stay focused! Write down your questions and statements in advance.
  • Facilitators are trained to twist things to make anyone not acceding to their agenda look foolish or aggressive. Wait until the facilitator finishes speaking and then bring them back to your question. Be persistent!
  • Go with like-minded people, but don't sit together as a group. When the facilitator avoids addressing your question and moves to someone else in the audience, another compatriot can ask a related question.
  • Turn the technique back on the facilitator and isolate them as the kook.
  • As noted in the article below, do not congregate during recesses. Spotters will infiltrate dissident groups and report back to the facilitator, who will then avoid calling on those individuals.

Using the Delphi Technique to Achieve Consensus - How it is leading us away from representative government to an illusion of citizen participation, Education Reporter, Eagle Forum, 1998:

The Delphi Technique and consensus building are both founded in the same principle - the Hegelian dialectic of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, with synthesis becoming the new thesis. The goal is a continual evolution to "oneness of mind" (consensus means solidarity of belief) - the collective mind, the wholistic society, the wholistic earth, etc. In thesis and antithesis, opinions or views are presented on a subject to establish views and opposing views. In synthesis, opposites are brought together to form the new thesis. All participants in the process are then to accept ownership of the new thesis and support it, changing their views to align with the new thesis. Through a continual process of evolution, "oneness of mind" will supposedly occur.

In group settings, the Delphi Technique is an unethical method of achieving consensus on controversial topics. It requires well-trained professionals, known as "facilitators" or "change agents," who deliberately escalate tension among group members, pitting one faction against another to make a preordained viewpoint appear "sensible," while making opposing views appear ridiculous...

The Delphi Technique works. It is very effective with parents, teachers, school children, and community groups. The "targets" rarely, if ever, realize that they are being manipulated. If they do suspect what is happening, they do not know how to end the process. The facilitator seeks to polarize the group in order to become an accepted member of the group and of the process. The desired idea is then placed on the table and individual opinions are sought during discussion. Soon, associates from the divided group begin to adopt the idea as if it were their own, and they pressure the entire group to accept their proposition...

While the Delphi Technique can be used to achieve a hidden agenda that is in opposition to public interest, it is most certainly an unethical technique when used in the context of public meetings. The means of defeating the technique are awareness of its use, and a few simple steps as noted above.