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new-logo25Debbie Coffey        Copyright 2013           All Rights Reserved.


While some advocacy groups quickly lauded certain aspects of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report regarding the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Wild Horse & Burro Program,  Anne Novak of Protect Mustangs noticed something and brought it to my attention:

On page 275 of this report, under the Chapter 8 topic of Social Considerations, the NAS Board advised the Bureau of Land Management:

“One possible method to gather the latest information from experts and to focus it on a particular problem is to use a Delphi process.”

What’s troubling about this?   The Delphi process was developed in the 1950s by the Rand Corporation, and has since been used for the purpose of maneuvering segments of the public into accepting predetermined government policies.

In other words, the Delphi process gives the illusion of public input and participation, but the input isn’t really considered and participation doesn’t matter.  It’s basically just a way for the government to pretend there is public participation and accountability.

photos_Par_27912_Image_-1_-1_1   BLM photo of National Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board meeting

Here’s how the Delphi process works:  There is a predetermined outcome.  (Most likely, not the one you’d hoped for.)   And who picks the supposedly unbiased “experts” who will be submitting “the latest information?”  Who chooses what to “focus” on?  (Not you.)

There may be a series of meetings where people are broken into smaller groups and sit at different tables around the room.  The purpose of this is that if knowledgeable people arrive together, they’ll have to sit with strangers and hopefully be more subdued.

Each table will have a facilitator, who will know which way to help “steer” the group.  The people will be instructed to answer some questions among themselves, then arrive at a table “consensus.”

The Delphi process often uses surveys to bring about this “consensus,” but the questions on the survey are loaded and skewed to manipulate the desired outcome.  The survey will use grading like “agree all of the time, agree most of the time, agree some of the time, and don’t agree.  Or, the survey will ask respondents to use ratings like “most important, moderately important and least important.”

After the first survey, people are told most people agreed or somewhat agreed with the predetermined outcome.  Then, people are given another survey and are asked if they can be flexible and try to rethink the “few remaining” areas of disagreement.  Then, the respondents are told that the majority achieved a “consensus” (which is the direction that the group leading this meeting wanted:  the predetermined outcome).

Someone is chosen to speak for the table, most likely a person who has been secretly pre-briefed about the desired Delphi outcome.  The table “spokesperson” is the only one allowed to address the podium and there will be little, if any, opportunity to address the podium or the crowd directly.


Under Chapter 8 of the NAS report, the committee also advises the BLM to use Appreciative Inquiry (AI).  AI creates a situation where people in a group only talk about positive things, not any problems or “negative” aspects of an issue.

An example of this might be if you had to rack your brain to think of something good about the BLM’s mismanaged Wild Horse & Burro Program, you might think “Well, sometimes a few horses are adopted by nice people.”

So, using AI, you’d ONLY be able to talk about nice people adopting wild horses.  You wouldn’t be able to talk about the BLM’s skewed population inventories/estimates with no photos or videos to back up their wild claims of excessive horses and burros.  You wouldn’t be able to bring up issues like the BLM’s roundups and inhumane handling of wild horses and burros.

You wouldn’t be able to express concerns about the lack of public access and accountability with BLM’s blanket bait trapping contracts, where the public doesn’t know when or where these roundups are taking place.  You wouldn’t be able to talk about horses needing shade while warehoused in feedlot conditions in sweltering temperatures.  You also wouldn’t be able to ask about the many thousands of wild horses and burros that most likely have gone to slaughter.

I’m not sure who would appreciate “Appreciative Inquiry,” but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be wild horse & burro advocates.

Appreciative Inquiry has been critiqued for being almost evangelically focused on “the positive” (Dick 2004) and too “Pollyanna-ish” (Fitzgerald, Murrell & Newman, 2001).  Rogers and Fraser (2003) question whether AI encourages “unrealistic and dysfunctional perceptions, attitudes, and behavior.”  Golembiewski (2000) noted that AI discourages analysis.

Most importantly, if you don’t look at problems, how can you fix them?   This process isn’t about fixing problems, it is about controlling your participation and input.

BLM has already been denying problems with their program for a long time.  It showed callousness (and a lot of gall) for a BLM employee to speak at a National Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board meeting and say “You have to go slow to go fast” in referring to developing a humane treatment policy, after the BLM has blatantly ignored their mandate to care for the wild horses and burros for 42 years.  (That’s pretty slow.)

The NAS suggestions in Chapter 8 of the report seem to squelch your right to speak at a public meeting.  (There is already little opportunity to speak at most BLM meetings now, even at the upcoming National Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board meeting.  Public comment time is always strictly limited on the agenda.)

With the Delphi process, anyone who tries to speak out in opposition may be told from the podium “We don’t have time to discuss that now,” or “We discussed that on another date,” or “We can discuss that after the meeting.”

In other words, your comments won’t be on public record, and the predetermined outcome will then look like a unanimous decision.  They may even try to discredit you.  This technique is meant to bully people into submission.

It has been advised that people who don’t want to be manipulated by the Delphi process arrive separately, and sit far apart.  Remain polite, smile, but be firm.  The Dephi facilitators are trained to make anyone who doesn’t accept their agenda look aggressive or silly.

If the facilitators interrupt you, listen politely, then ask your question or make your comment again.  If they try to distort your question or your comment, clarify to the group that this is not what you were saying, and then repeat your comment or question verbatim.  If your friends do the same, and you persist, you may retain some control over free speech and the democratic process.  Or, go hold your own meeting at another location and give your plan to the government agency.

This isn’t just about the BLM and wild horse & burro advocates.  This issue should be of concern to everyone who cares about our Constitution and free speech.