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February 2006

 Teresa Rivas and Nancy Wade
Delphi Coordinators Teresa Rivas (left) and Nancy Wade.

Questions and suggestions from the staff to management may be submitted in confidence to the Delphi Coordinators (Teresa Rivas, left, and Nancy Wade). They should be submitted in written form, preferably via interoffice mail in a sealed envelope marked confidential. They must be signed. Detailed procedures for submitting questions are given in the UCAR Policies and Procedures Manual, section 4-1-2, and on the Delphi Web site. Staff Notes Monthly publishes questions and answers of general interest to staff, and the Delphi Web site has a log of all questions submitted since 1995.


Delphi Question: Delphi confidentiality

Delphi Question #546 (received October 21): I have a question, or possibly a challenge, for you: Why are Delphi questions merely confidential and not anonymous?

The UCAR Policy Statement (section 4-1-2) says: "The Delphi Service is one means by which any employee may ask a question related to the operation of UCAR and receive an answer, while maintaining anonymity."

But the procedure for submitting a question requires me to sign my name. That's not anonymous. I have a Delphi question to ask, but it could cause trouble for me just for having asked it.

Now, I believe that the Delphi coordinators are trustworthy and have integrity, but I don't know you personally. What if my situation turns out to be the one that doesn't fit in with community standards and violates the very sense of responsibility you were selected for? I feel that my situation is legitimate and ethical—but what if you disagree?
Given my reluctance to expose myself to potentially negative repercussions, should I ask my question?

Sincerely,
—Anonymous

P.S. If this spurs you to consider setting up an anonymous system, it seems like it would be relatively simple to set up a Web site where an employee could anonymously submit a message and a simple password to access the answer. The details of the answer might not be as secure as if they were mailed to the questioner's home address, but the questioner could be guaranteed true anonymity. Perhaps some people would find that the trade-off is worthwhile?

Response: In the past, Delphi has not responded to letters unless the identity of the questioner is known. We have chosen to answer this question, however, because we believe the writer brings up good points and we believe staff would be interested in this topic.

Your questions are challenging because they ask us to think about the current Delphi process and to consider changing the process to assure anonymity. You are correct in quoting the Delphi policy that explains the process as one that "maintains anonymity."

The Delphi process, in place since 1974, is designed as a way for employees to ask UCAR managers "questions or concerns about UCAR policy and practice, especially in cases where they believe their personal interests are at stake." (Policy 4-1-2)

Your inquiry included these questions: "What if my situation turns out to be the one that doesn't fit in with community standards and violates the very sense of responsibility you were selected for? I feel that my situation is legitimate and ethical—but what if you disagree? Given my reluctance to expose myself to potentially negative repercussions, should I ask my question?"

It is important for employees to be able to provide input on ethical issues. For that reason, there is an ethics website that is designed to allow employees to report accounting, auditing, and internal control concerns in an anonymous manner. I encourage you to use this venue if appropriate.

The Delphi process has a larger and more general scope and is widely used by employees. The Delphi coordinators are not tasked with agreeing or disagreeing with questions submitted, but with responding to inquiries. The integrity of the question is substantiated by the questioner "owning" the question or concern. Alternatively, anonymity would allow that:

• A question might be asked that could include serious accusations or claims that could not be substantiated. There is the potential for irresponsible or false allegations that could damage the reputation of another employee or could compromise the integrity of the Delphi process.

• If the question included allegations of illegal activity or if an anonymous communiqué described a situation in which a UCAR employee's safety was at risk, the Delphi coordinators would have no way of discussing the situation with the individual.

The identity of UCAR employees who ask Delphi questions is always guarded very carefully by Teresa Rivas and me. Since we are co-coordinators of the Delphi process, the majority of the time employees send their inquiries to only one of us. Occasionally, questions are sent to both of us and we decide which one of us will forward the question to the appropriate person.

There have been occasions when a Delphi question prompted an internal investigation of legitimate concerns relevant to an employee's health and/or safety. If we had not known the identity of the person who asked the question, we would have had no way to work with the person to help resolve the issues.
When a questioner identifies himself or herself, if only to one Delphi coordinator, the very act of identification—in my opinion—lends credibility to the interaction. Teresa and I both believe strongly that with accountability comes responsibility.

You state that you fear "negative repercussions" by asking a Delphi question. I encourage you to trust that your question will be taken seriously, that we will remove your identifying information before we forward it to the appropriate person, and that you will be treated with the utmost respect as we work hard to maintain your confidentiality.

—Nancy Wade
Delphi co-coordinator


Also in this issue...

Dialing in: staffers save gas, time by working from home

New Scientists I have diverse interests

UCAR takes avian flu precautions
Staying Healthy

Random Profile: Will Piper

2006 AMS awards

Delphi Question: Delphi confidentiality

Sunrise project

Just One Look


 

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