Introduction to Task Analysis
To understand the essence of task analysis it is important to glimpse at the working conditions prevalent in the past and the changes that have taken place thus prompting the need to change accordingly. It has been observed by Waagen, that in the past the job market was very well defined. An individual was absorbed into an organization based on specific skills that he/she had obtained to perform a well-specified task or set of duties. Owing to these clearly defined roles a course developer’s work was thus relatively simple and entailed the development of a step-by-step model for training (Waagen, 1998).
It is in the development of these models that task analysis plays an essential role. Task analysis may be loosely defined as a systematic process that aims to identify specific skills, knowledge tools, conditions and requirements that are needed to perform any job. In the past, this process was easy as instructors relied on job descriptions prepared after job analysis. The instructor’s duty was the translation of the requirements into training material that could be used to train potential employees (Waagen, 1998).
This procedure is not flawed and indeed is still practiced by many organizations. However, owing to the business trends of the age of globalization focused on increased speed, performance and process the formal organization and rigidity associated with job descriptions are fast becoming obsolete. Employees today are required to perform several tasks which are indeed many jobs merged. With this fluidity replacing the rigidity of the past one may assume task analysis is a thing of the past. However, when we consider the role played by task analysis in training the employees it would appear that the rigid or documented approach is what needs to change to allow for mechanisms that will prepare employees capable of coping with the renewed demands (Waagen, 1998).
Description of the Delphi Technique
The Delphi technique is among the methods available for task analysis. The technique involves the use of a structured group interview method aimed at seeking consensus within a group about ideas, goals or other similar issues. This technique is also used a lot in forecasting needs, prediction of outcomes and prediction of the future. The technique aims at bringing convergence of group opinion and reduces the error that characterizes individual opinions (Elbo 2008). In practice, the technique is practiced in an iterative fashion with results of initial responses of all group participants being made available for further examination and responses in a subsequent round. Within the framework of these iterations, a group consensus is normally realized (Jonassen, Tessmer & Hannum, 1999).
As earlier stated the technique utilizes a structured approach for carrying out the interview sessions. It is mainly through these interview sessions that data can be gathered about the process or task at hand. As with most group-oriented methods for research, the group interview relies on a problem definition for its success or effectiveness. The group approach is not meant to be a free conversation among group members but should be geared towards a specific task or problem. Therefore the clear definition of a problem statement is essential to the process. With the problem defined the next step is to identify the population or group that represents the interest group.
Just as is the case with the problem definition proper care needs to be taken in identifying the interest group (Plessis & Human, 2007). It would be wise to keep in mind sectors or departments that may not be directly related to the problem but are affected by the problem or changes in the process of operations that may arise. The final step in the development of an interview process consisting of a focus group as is the case in the Delphi technique involves the identification of a moderator and selection of appropriate questions for the interview. Again care should be taken to select both questions and an individual that can best serve the process for best results (Stewart, Shamdasani & Rook, 2007).
However, it should be noted that, unlike other group techniques, in the Delphi method, the participants are never assembled nor do they meet prior to the initial review of opinions. The feedback is provided to the participants including all the group opinions on the matter at hand. The participants can be assembled to discuss although this is not commonly practiced. Typically the group data is collected from respondents who answer the questions while alone. The surveys are normally filled out anonymously and independently. Participants are not forced to change their opinions and instead, the knowledge of group opinions urges the change. The use of cycles of opinion followed by feedback gradually moves the group to consensus without any arm twisting (Jonassen et al. 1999).
The history of the Delphi Technique
The technique takes its name from the Greek oracle at Delphi whose expert opinion and forecasts resulted in a wide consultation and renown. This was a holy place where according to mythology the master of Delphi, Apollo, renowned for his ability to predict the future was consulted (Plessis & Human, 2007). The Delphi technique has been applied in many different settings as a tool for task analysis and also forecasting. When the technique is applied in the context of task analysis it makes use of expert opinion as to its prime source of information. In this regard, the technique bears resemblance to other task analysis techniques.
This technique can be traced to forecasting efforts that were undertaken by the Rand Corporation (Jonassen et al., 1999). In the period from the 1940s to the late 1970s, an era that saw the cold war active in global politics, espionage was a major source of concern for many nations in the world. This technique was developed by the Rand Corporation in this era as a crucial tool in the “Project Delphi” to estimate the possible effects of massive bombing in the USA to enable the defense force to make appropriate preparations (Plessis & Human, 2007). The initial development was under two scientists, namely, Olaf Helmer and Norman Dalkey. The two scientists strove to develop the Delphi technique as a scientifically sound technique for research.
Despite the fact that at the time the technique was used more as an art than a science, the two strove to prove that after several tests the technique had proven to be capable of providing reliable results (Plessis & Human, 2007). Results from other similar studies on the efficiency of the technique indicate that Delphi can reflect results based on fact and other variables such as intuition or personal judgment. Based on such findings and other future proofs it was agreed upon that this technique was capable of providing sound scientific evidence and in addition, the technique had elicited that statistical summary of individual opinions is more accurate for prediction as opposed to group interaction or individual opinions (Plessis & Human, 2007).
The Delphi technique has also received criticism from other quarters that hold the opinion that it lacked the scientific merit required as a tool for analysis. However, the Delphi technique continued to be used in a number of disciplines e.g. Health Sciences. The procedure that was used entailed sending a set of questions to a panel of experts. After this initial round, their results would be tabulated and the panel of experts would be again asked to make estimates on those events based on the responses from other experts. It was after several iterations were completed that the median responses would be taken as the best estimate of the group (Jonassen et al., 1999).
Based on this information the opponents of this data collection technique have advanced arguments that’ state the method may be lacking the basis to be used in all situations given that the opinion of experts drives the process. This anomaly is used by some authors to define the technique, such that it is viewed as a process that iterates using a series of questionnaires to generate bring about the agreement in opinion in an anonymous fashion. In another definition, the Delphi technique has been described as a method that assesses the conclusions from a group of experts for the purpose of assisting in decision making, planning for the future or establishment of priorities.
The technique is quite difficult to define because of its adaptable nature. However, the rationale behind the technique is that group communication is involved and the drive behind the communication is decision-making to deal with a specific issue (Plessis & Human 2007). The Delphi technique is best applied in situations where the prevailing situation is one that includes vague, unknown or contradicting opinions. This characteristic is especially of value to any research group or effort when the group of experts who will contribute to the process is geographically dispersed (Plessis & Human, 2007).
Characteristics and advantages of the method
In this section of the report, the discussion will seek to provide some information on the Delphi technique with reference to its characteristics and advantages that it poses in comparison to other methods of analysis. The primary distinguishing traits of the Delphi technique can be summarized to include; the ability to mask the source of information, repetition of the process to refine the conclusions, and ability to control the feedback with the help of a team of experts (Plessis & Human, 2007). The trait of anonymity allows or encourages the respondents to express their sincere opinions without fear of reprisal or embarrassment. As a result of this, it may be assumed that the group of participants in the process can get a glimpse of the stake of fellow participants in the process. Through iteration, the participants gradually mold their perceptions to accommodate these additional aspects that they may not have been privy to prior to the interaction. The statistics and the team of experts are essential in guiding the respondents through the course of the iterations with a view to reaching a consensus,
As earlier stated one of the characteristics of the Delphi technique which is an advantageous quality of the technique is that it is useful particularly in situations where the team of experts whose opinion is sought is dispersed geographically (Plessis & Human, 2007). This is especially beneficial given the prevailing economic climate of modern times. The role of globalization in many countries today has led to major savings and cost reductions owing to the lowered production costs. According to Laden, families in America save hundreds of billions on an annual basis through the variety available owing to global trade. In a discussion on the role of global trade, it emerged that its proponents argued that, “Global trade is not applicable only to Fortune 500 companies” (Laden, 2010). Given this position, it would appear that techniques such as Delphi can be crucial in enabling both large corporations and smaller businesses to arrive at appropriate decisions despite the geographic dispersion. This would enhance global trade and provide a major boost to emerging economies and small to medium-sized businesses. This point was corroborated in a seminar on global trade hosted by UPS in Atlanta where it was noted that a growing number of both small and medium-sized businesses have shown interest in finding means to compete in today’s rapidly changing business environment (Business Wire, 2010).
Another trait that may be attributed to Delphi that is advantageous is that it can be useful in instances where issues pertaining to groups e.g. influence and peer pressure may end up forcing conformance. In such a situation it would be important to use a technique that can reduce the effect that such influences may have on the decision-making process. The Delphi technique is one effective method of achieving this goal. A case where this technique has proven effective is within the health care sector that is characterized by multi-disciplinary teams and hierarchical structures (Plessis & Human, 2007). As stated earlier this technique is similar to a structured group interviewing technique and thus shares many of the advantages that group interviewing techniques possess. Among the advantages of this technique is the fact that it highlights the respondent’s attitudes, priorities, language and understanding (King & Horrocks, 2010). This is especially essential given that the aim is to reach a consensus without the application of force. A technique that will allow the participants to express their opinions in an unbiased fashion will serve to educate all the participants in the process on the various positions pertinent to the subject in question.
Another advantage that can be attributed to the structured group interviews, under which the Delphi technique is categorized, is that it encourages a wide variety of communication from participants, lending the process a wider range and form of understanding. In addition to this, it helps the experts identify group norms (King & Horrocks, 2010). However, it is evident that these advantages rely on the skill or assessment of the researcher using the technique. Though the data gathered may be from a wide spectrum and provide several varied opinions on the issue at hand, the digestion of this data lies largely in the hands of the researcher. Without proper know-how or experience, the data in itself may not serve any purpose without an understanding of the underlying issues it posits. This point has also been echoed by other authors on the topic who state the choice of the Delphi technique for data gathering requires careful consideration. Among the reasons highlighted for this position, they include the researcher’s competence, resources available and logistical considerations (Plessis & Human, 2007). Authors who have shown support for this technique indicate that it should only be resorted to when it is clear that it can provide better quality data than other group or individual interviewing techniques. It has been suggested that the research problem can act as a suitable guide for the choice of the method to gather data. It is important to keep in mind also that among the reasons for the selection is to avoid the problems inherent in group interaction.
In summary, the Delphi technique could be said to have added value when compared with other data collection techniques. The primary reason behind this conclusion is that while it is able to provide the research team with quantitative data like other techniques, the technique can provide the team with the ability to explore qualitative data such as attitudes and moral judgments (Plessis & Human, 2007). It is for this reason that the technique is viewed as especially advantageous in given conditions seeing that both aspects are crucial in decision making and when consensus can be arrived at without application of force, the accommodation of opposing opinions suggests the most amicable solution will be agreed upon (Hsu & Sandford 2007). In addition, it has been established that participation in such an experience is likely to be motivating and educational for those involved. Participation is viewed as a stimulating experience which in itself may be the source of new ideas. It is for these reasons that the Delphi technique is considered an appropriate method for data collection and analysis have given that the users adhere to the criteria used for its selection.
Modified Delphi Technique
The modified Delphi Technique as the name suggests is an altered version of the original technique. This section will seek to provide some information on the differences and additional information that pertains to its use in the gathering of data. To begin with, the modified Delphi technique is a little more complex than a structured group interview in that, while the group interview prioritizes ideas by importance the modified technique places priority both on the importance and personal preference (Schiller, Miller-Kovach & Miller, 1994). The technique also encourages that the team members hold discussions and exchange ideas as part of the process. In addition to this, the process also relies heavily on the management skills of a good facilitator. In this respect, the technique bears resemblance to the original Delphi technique.
During implementation, the process begins with a discussion of the ideas being given consideration by the group. These ideas are the results of a brainstorming exercise and in this stage, the group has an open and candid discussion on the importance and merits of each individual idea. Where there is a consensus by the group an idea can be dropped, redrafted or combined based on the results of the open discussion. During this stage, each idea is assessed to ascertain whether, it meets the group objective, is viable within the scope of the group, can be evaluated adequately with the available data and whether it can be addressed within an acceptable time frame. The ideas that remain after the open discussion are drafted and tallied (Schiller et al., 1994).
During the next stage, each member of the group is required to rank the ideas based on personal preference beginning with the most preferred to the least preferred. It is important to note that the ranking is done based on personal preference and not importance. After that stage, the group again ranks the ideas based on the level of importance begins inning with the most important to the least important. After this is accomplished the facilitator will calculate each idea’s total based on the product of its preference and importance. With these totals for each idea having been calculated the idea with the lowest sum is selected (Schiller et al., 1994).
For this technique to be successful some factors have been identified as crucial to ensuring its success. It has been noted that for its success it would be important to allow the group to assign scores with which they are comfortable. There can be no pressure on the group members to “vote” for any idea based on who tabled the idea. If there are concerns of this nature then the process of assigning weight to ideas and the tallying can be done on paper and in private to allow the process to move along smoothly. In addition to this, the group must also have an adequate understanding of the ideas to be able to make proper decisions regarding prioritization. To this end, the discussion session should therefore be used to inform and educate the members. It is also here that a skilled facilitator is useful so as to ensure the discussion does not become a platform for campaigning (Schiller et al., 1994). This ends the brief background section on the modified Delphi technique.
Educational uses of modified Delphi Technique
As indicated through the discussions presented in the course of this paper the Delphi technique is an effective tool for data collection and analysis that is useful in bringing about consensus on issues that bring about varied opinions. This technique has been used in various disciplines and in this section the discussion presented will attempt to highlight some of its uses in education.
One instance where the technique has been applied is in the sphere of distance education. More specifically the technique was applied to attempt to identify the problems faced by instructors when they attempt to maintain or create social connectedness in online courses. In addition to this, there was also a need to identify strategies identified by experienced online instructors that may be useful in correcting the issues related to lack of social connectedness in the e-learning environments (Van Tryon & Bishop, 2006).
Many educators have argued that the emergence of web-based learning facilities has been a major breakthrough in education. Indeed the presence of web-based learning facilities promises to make the exchange of ideas and expertise simple while making education much more accessible and flexible for the learner. These web-based degree programs and courses have created new learning opportunities for vast populations that prior to their existence were inaccessible. Unfortunately, it has also been reported that despite this promise the realization of this may not be easy (Moore and Anderson, p. 475). Statistics indicate that the rate of students exiting these web-based courses is 40%-50% higher than in traditional face-to-face classes. Among the reasons posed by students for exiting these courses is the lack of interpersonal relationships with instructors that are typical in the traditional classroom. The instructors have also reported feeling out of touch with their students in these settings (Van Tryon & Bishop, 2006). It is the presence of problems such as these that led a team of researchers to embark on a modified Delphi study to attempt to find a solution to the problem.
Proponents of social learning theory have indicated that learning takes place within an environment where the individual can construct ideas, culture, history and meanings as a result of continuous interaction and functioning through collaboration (Van Tryon & Bishop, 2006). It has been argued that it is within that setting that learners acquire a sense of belonging. Moreover, it has been reported that it is within the group structure that learners find an avenue for learning. It, therefore, becomes a very crucial issue to discover how to provide web-based learners with a similar avenue in the absence of the traditional classroom setting. The Delphi method was selected because of its ability to bring about consensus among a group of experts. In the study, an initial open-ended question was delivered to be discussed by a panel of experts and in subsequent rounds, the experts were provided feedback from previous rounds. From the findings of the study, it was possible to identify 95 strategies that would help the learners and instructors alike in dealing with the lack of social connectedness that was a problem. Several possibilities were identified and the means to implement them was also discussed. Despite some limitations, the study indicated that some effective strategies had been identified that could be put in place to alleviate some of the hardships faced by both students and instructors in web-based learning environments (Van Tryon & Bishop, 2006).
Another application of this technique within education was noted with regards to the administration of institutions and more specifically in the context of decision-making within institutions (Ornstein & Lunenberg, 2007). In the administration of an institution, it was noted that the administrator has at their disposal a wide number of tools to aid in the decision-making process. However, the tool that is chosen must be suited for the decision sought. In some cases, the issue at hand is not a far-reaching problem and does not concern a large number of parties. In other situations, the decisions have a far-reaching effect and require more suited tools that can assist all parties to agree on the most suitable way forward. In such instances, the administration may resort to the use of techniques such as the Delphi technique or the modified Delphi technique to provide a lasting and well-received solution. Such a situation may arise in the instance that a school superintendent intends to evaluate the curriculum being offered in the basic skill areas. Such an initiative would call for the input of selected students, the faculty, community and selected education experts. This situation may best be addressed using the Delphi technique that will guide the participants through the course of the discussion and allow them to reach a suitable conclusion (Ornstein & Lunenberg, 2007). Within the context of institutional administration techniques such as Delphi, studies can provide relief and speed up otherwise difficult discussions that bring together stakeholders allied to the institution.
Another useful area that the modified Delphi technique can be applied in education is within the context of teaching principles applied within the classroom (Adams & Brown 2006). According to Bennion, all individuals are not alike. This is an issue that must pose a serious problem for any would-be teacher given that the entire classroom is composed of individuals with different personalities and interests. In spite of the fact that the instructor has to deal with a classroom full of different individuals, evidence has indicated that the skilled instructor is able to grasp the attention of these individuals and transmit the content of the lesson effectively. According to Jackson, the ability to teach is something of a gift that some individuals are naturally equipped with and allows them to excel as teachers. However, if we could borrow from the instance where the modified Delphi technique was put into use by educators to assess how to improve the experience for distance learners, we can also assume that similar efforts can be made to attempt to grasp the essential qualities of a good teacher. These sentiments are echoed by Jackson who states that to become an effective teacher it is not enough to do what they do, but it is also essential to think as they do (2009). This may be achieved through the use of data collected through the modified Delphi technique and utilized in teacher training.
Examples of recent dissertations using modified Delphi technique especially in Accounting Education
The Delphi technique has been widely used in the preparation of research material. In this section the discussion presented will highlight some areas of research where the technique has been used to provide essential data on trends in various disciplines. One area where the Delphi technique has been effectively used is in Supply Chain Management.
In a paper on the role of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, the technique was successfully used in supply Chain Management. The study, in this case, involved 23 Dutch Supply Chain Executives of multi-national organizations in Europe (Akkermans, Bogerd, Yucesan & Van Wassenhove, 2003). The study unearthed several issues that were of relevance to supply chain management both now and in the near future. Of the essential issues that came to light after the study were the following; it was essential to bring together activities that could merge the suppliers and customers across the supply chain, the IT resources used in monitoring the supply chain need to be made more flexible to enable them to cope with frequent changes, products and services in the supply chain need to be customized to reflect market needs, strategic placement of essential players in the supply chain and the need for new supply chains consisting of several independent entries (Akkermans et al., 2003). In addition to this, the panel of experts also reported that there was only a modest possibility the ERP systems could improve the supply chain in the future. In addition to this, the experts further reported, that there was also a clear risk of the ERP systems limiting the progress in Supply Chain Management.
According to Shtub and Karni operations management refers covers all activities that are related to the production of goods and services (1). In line with this management function systems have been developed that can assist in this role. Among these systems is the Enterprise Resource Planning Systems (ERP) which handles data, information and communication requirements of the entire organization. Supply Chain Management refers to the process of handling the flow of materials from the raw material, through the factories and storage houses to the end-users. The ERP systems were developed in the hope that they could assist in the proper management of the supply chain. Research such as the paper highlighted above has shown that these systems are inappropriate and unlikely to effectively manage the supply chain (2008). Among the issues that are behind their inadequacy is the lack of flexibility and inability to rapidly deal with changes in specifications.
In another paper, the Delphi technique was utilized to identify the traits that the Big Eight Accounting firms seek when recruiting entry-level accountants. To achieve this, the panel set criteria comprising characteristics that they felt may act as a basis for recruitment. After the initial and subsequent rounds of discussion, the panel identified a set of characteristics that appeared common to all the firms in forming a decision on recruitment. Among the crucial factors considered by employers include; an attractive grade point average, completion of an accounting course at a recognized university, favorable personality, proven leadership skills or participation in some recognized organizations and a professional appearance. The panel also reported common factors that were considered to be of less importance, including, academic ability, referees and membership in various organizations (Dinius & Rogow, 1988).
Another instance of whether the Delphi method has been used for research in relation to accounting has been in the selection of periodicals for the university’s libraries (Bryan, Drews & Friedlob, 1987). The aim of the study was to offer guidance for instructors in accounting in the selection of appropriate accounting periodicals. The students enrolled within accounting learning institutions rely a great deal on current periodicals for up-to-date material. It is for this reason that they should have access to the most appropriate material for reference purposes. The method chosen to select these periodicals was to provide a list of possible options and carry out a Delphi study to arrive at a consensus on which periodicals to avail in the library. Just as is the procedure the participants were asked to rate the periodicals and after the initial rounds and feedback, the process was repeated. Through this relatively simple method consensus was arrived at and the most suited periodicals were selected. The above are just a few of the examples of research studies that have utilized the Delphi technique effectively to arrive at a conclusion.
- Adams, M. & Brown, S. (2006). Towards Inclusive Learning in Higher Education: Developing Curricula for Disabled Students. Oxon: Routledge.
- Akkermans, H. A., Bogerd, P., Yücesan, E. & Van Wassenhove, L. N. (2003). The Impact of ERP on Supply Chain Management: Exploratory Findings from a European Delphi Study. European Journal of Operational Research, 146(2), 284-301.
- Bennion, A. S. (2008). Principles of Teaching. Charleston: Bibliobazzar.
- Bryan, E. L., Drews, A. L. & Friedlob, G. T. (1987). Delphic Choice of Accounting Periodicals for University Libraries. Journal of Accounting Education, 5(1), 167-174.
- Business Wire. (2010). UPS Presents Global Trade Seminar for Atlanta Businesses. Business Wire, 1-2.
- Dinius, S. H. & Rogow, R. B. (1988). Application of the Delphi Method in Identifying Characteristics Big Eight Firms in Entry-Level Accountants. Journal of Accounting Education, 6(1), 83-101.
- Elbo, R. A. H. (2008). Delphi Technique. Who Gets Heard and Why. The Manila Times, 1.
- Hsu, C. & Sandford. B. A. (2007). The Delphi Technique: Making Sense of Consensus. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 1-8.
- Jackson, R.R. (2009). Never Work Harder than Your Students and Other Principles of Great Teaching. Alexandria, VA, USA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
- Jonassen, D. H., Tessmer, M. & Hannum, W. H. (1999). Task Analysis Methods for Instructional Design. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc. Publishers.
- King, N. & Horrocks, C. (2010). Interviews in Qualitative Research. London: Sage Publications Ltd.
- Laden, R. (2010). Global Trade Good for Main Street. The (Colorado Springs) Gazette, 1-2.
- Moore, M. G. & Anderson, W. G. (2003). Handbook of Distance Education. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc. Publishers.
- Ornstein, A. C. & Lunenberg, F. C. (2007). Educational Administration: Concepts and Practices. California: Thomson Higher Education.
- Plessis, E. & Human, S. P. (2007). The Art of the Delphi Technique: Highlighting its Scientific Merit. Health SA Gesondheid, 1-14.
- Schiller, M. R., Miller-Kovach, K. & Miller, M. A. (1994). Total Quality Management for Hospital Nutrition Services. Maryland, USA: Aspen Publishers Inc.
- Shtub, A. & Karni, R. (2008). ERP: The Dynamics of Supply Chain and Process Management. New York: Springer.
- Stewart, D. W., Shamdasani, P. M. &Rook, D. M. (2007). Focus Groups: Theory and Practice. California: Sage Publications Inc.
- Van Tryon, P. J. S. & Bishop, M J. (2006). Identifying E-Mmediacy Strategies for Web-Based Instruction. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 7, 49-59.
- Waagen, A. K. (1998). Task Analysis: Instructional Systems Development. Virginia: American Society for Training & Development (ASTD).