Panel Consensus

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The panel consensus technique was designed for use in large organisations (e.g. a military service) with a capability for generating a large number of ideas (perhaps 4-500 or more) that would then need to be narrowed down (Taylor, 1972 as described by VanGundy, 1981; 1988)).

There is no time is built in for research, it is assumed that due to large number of people involved that the necessary knowledge is available, therefore sensible decisions can be made based on discussion and voting. Originally (1972), when it was described, it required a lot of clerical and administrative support, and must have been a very cumbersome process, implying a many-layered hierarchy; indeed the method read like an awesome explanation for delayering! However, if repeated nowadays, much of it might be computer and network based within a much flatter structure, making it much simpler operationally.

The underlying picture is that of progressive filtering through a series of selective funnels (c.f. the idea of a series of hurdles that underlies Progressive Hurdles).

The early phases engage large numbers of less skilful people using fairly straightforward methods to remove less suitable options, leaving small numbers of high-powered people to deliberate in more sophisticated ways on the resulting short-lists.

To begin: Each panel is staffed by a neutral administrator who looks after the paper-work, checks time-keeping, helps with weighting calculations, etc. and there are also an overall controller and administrator.

Idea generation phase: 24 hours are given to individuals with some knowledge of the problem, to come up with ideas. Each problem is presented in a comprehensive (up to 2 pages), standardised way (Title, Problem statement, Key points of the idea, Description of how it might be implemented). Strict anonymity is preserved. For the latter phases to make sense, this phase needs to generate at least 4-500 ideas.

Screening Phase: The 4-500 ideas are divided up randomly between 15 screening panels of 15 people each, carefully chosen for their shared familiarity of the field. Each panel is given 3-4 hours to reach consensus about the best five of the ideas allocated to it, working via a discussion and by assigning each idea a value on a five-point rating scale. This results in a short-list of 75 (15 x 5) ideas to pass on to the next phase.

Selection Phase: 3 Further panels, each of 5 middle managers selected for their expertise in the field, are given identical sets of clean copies of these 75 ideas. In much the same way as the previous phase though possibly with more analysis the selection panels endeavour to reach consensus. Again, each has 3-4 hours to reach consensus about what it considers the 5 best ideas, though this time they have to write statements justifying their choice. There may well, of course, be duplicates amid the resulting 15 (3 x 5) lists, as the three panels are working independently in parallel.

Refining Phase: One panel of 5 highly experienced upper-middle managers takes these 15 ideas and narrow them down to a final short-list, with cases justifying their choices, additionally they may simplify, develop or combine ideas as long as their basic material remains intact.

Decision Phase: A further panel of five top managers come to a decision on their preferred option to pursue and how it shall be implemented