Research Methods for Information Research

3. Some types of interview

3.8 Forecasting with questionnaires

It has always been hard to gauge future demand for information services, but this process is being made more difficult by the pace of change in ICT development and particularly in the accelerating rate of electronic information provision. A information service provider interested in developing digitised content asks whether it would be possible get expert views on some aspects of future digital publishing and content provision. We point out that collecting views is easy enough but that the real problem is in achieving consensus amongst the experts.

We suggest using an approach to ‘orchestrating’ expert views that we employed in relation to digital archiving a few years ago, involving a form of Delphi forecasting. (The original Delphi Forecasting technique was designed by staff of the Pentagon, allegedly with the aim of getting expert views on how many nuclear weapons would be needed to incapacitate all cities in the USA!) In our version,7 we asked 50 international experts to rate the likelihood, and desirability of 20 propositions about digital publishing and archiving coming about in ten years’ time, using six point scales for each proposition. For example:

CD Roms will have ceased to be used as a means of publishing information.

Highly likely

Highly unlikely

Highly desirable

Highly undesirable

We then asked people to pick out what they considered to be the five most important of these propositions, on the assumption that they had happened. This process enabled us to identify responses that differed from the normal range and to invite these respondents to reconsider their views and to amplify them if they still considered their forecast to be tenable (that is, nudging people towards a consensus but not forcing one).

By using the three dimensions of likelihood, desirability and importance we were able to focus on areas for attention, by concentrating on perceived areas of mismatch between likelihood and desirability (likely but undesirable; desirable but unlikely) especially if these were seen as important. We now have a fully interactive version of this forecasting tool up and running.

The drawback with forecasting, of course, is that even the strongest consensus may still turn out wrong. (For the record, the experts thought that CD Roms were doomed as publishing vehicles by 2007).

7. HAYNES, D. and others Responsibility for digital archiving and long term access to digital data JISC/NPO Studies on the Preservation of Electronic Materials. British Library Research and Innovation Report 67 BLRIC 1997.