The Delphi process – an expert-based approach to ecological modelling in data-poor environments


Douglas C. MacMillan, Department of Geography and Environment, St Mary's University of Aberdeen, Old Aberdeen AB24 3UF, Scotland. Tel: +44 (0)1224 274128; Fax: +44 (0)1224 273487


Resource managers are involved in difficult decisions that affect rare species and habitats but often lack relevant ecological knowledge and experience. Ecological models are increasingly being looked to as a means of assisting the decision-making process, but very often the data are missing or are unsuited to empirical modelling. This paper describes the development and application of the Delphi approach to develop a decision support tool for wildlife conservation and management. The Delphi process is an expert-based approach to decision support that can be used as a means for predicting outcomes in situations where ‘absolute’ or ‘objective’ models are unavailable or compromised by lack of appropriate data. The method aims to develop consensus between experts over several rounds of deliberation on the assumption that combining the expertise of several individuals will provide more reliable results than consulting one or two individuals. In this paper the approach is used to engineer soft knowledge on the conservation requirements of capercaillie Tetrao urogallus, an endangered woodland grouse, into a model that can be used by forests managers to improve the quality of forest habitat for capercaillie over extensive commercial forest areas. This paper concludes with a discussion of the potential advantages and disadvantages of Delphi and other soft knowledge approaches to ecological modelling and conservation management.