Consulting the oracle: ten lessons from using the Delphi technique in nursing research


  • Sinead Keeney BA MRes,

  • Felicity Hasson BA MSc PG Dip,

  • Hugh McKenna BSc DipN AdvDipEd DPhil RGN RMN RNT FRCSI

Felicity Hasson, Institute of Nursing Research,
University of Ulster,
Shore Road,
Belfast BT37 0QB,


Aim.  The aim of this paper was to provide insight into the Delphi technique by outlining our personal experiences during its use over a 10-year period in a variety of applications.

Background.  As a means of achieving consensus on an issue, the Delphi research method has become widely used in healthcare research generally and nursing research in particular. The literature on this technique is expanding, mainly addressing what it is and how it should be used. However, there is still much confusion and uncertainty surrounding it, particularly about issues such as modifications, consensus, anonymity, definition of experts, how ‘experts’ are selected and how non-respondents are pursued.

Discussion.  This issues that arise when planning and carrying out a Delphi study include the definition of consensus; the issue of anonymity vs. quasi-anonymity for participants; how to estimate the time needed to collect the data, analyse each ‘round’, feed back results to participants, and gain their responses to this feedback; how to define and select the ‘experts’ who will be asked to participate; how to enhance response rates; and how many ‘rounds’ to conduct.

Conclusion.  Many challenges and questions are raised when using the Delphi technique, but there is no doubt that it is an important method for achieving consensus on issues where none previously existed. Researchers need to adapt the method to suit their particular study.