The UCAR/NCAR Delphi Service may have started in the thoroughly modern, disco-era year of 1974, but it harks back all the way to ancient Greece. At the original Delphi shrine, located on the slopes of Mount Parnassus, priestesses dedicated to the god Apollo delivered prophecies on wars, colonization, and other such weighty affairs.
Marc Genty, Delphi Coordinator since 2006, doesn’t wash in a sacred spring or sit on a special tripod, as the ancient oracles did. Rather, he manages a service whereby staff can submit questions to management about UCAR policy and procedures while retaining anonymity. The intention is to foster communication among all levels of employees.
“This truly is a great service and one that is a model for other institutions,” Marc says. “Providing a safe channel of communication goes a long way toward preventing misunderstandings and engendering the collegial atmosphere that is a hallmark of this organization,” Marc says.
Hundreds of questions have been asked and answered through the service, covering a staggering array of issues: health coverage, vacation leave, lawn care, prairie dog welfare, toilet paper waste, dress codes, nap rooms, and more. Most questions pertain to human resources and facilities, with fewer related to research and science.
Confidentiality is the key component of the Delphi process. Questioners are required to include their names and contact information when submitting questions to Marc; however, Marc removes all names and other potentially identifying information before forwarding questions to management for response. The questioner’s name, contact information, and assigned question number are stored offline and offsite, and the original document is destroyed.
Questions can be submitted to Marc via UCAR e-mail, private email, hard copy, or postal mail to Marc’s home, depending on the nature and sensitivity of the question.
Questions and answers that the Delphi coordinator deems to be of general interest are published in Staff Notes Monthly as well as in the Delphi website’s log. Explicit permission is required from both the questioner and responder before any question can be published. Some questioners request that their queries and responses not be published, in the event that references to specific people or circumstances may reveal the questioner’s identity. Such questions are listed by subject in the online log but are not printed in full. The same is true for questions that don’t appeal to general interest.
Tips for writing Delphi questions
• Questions that need not be anonymous or confidential can go to outlets other than Delphi, particularly when they may lack broad interest. Sending routine questions about building maintenance, signage, and flags directly to Physical Plant Services or Safety and Site Services may be more efficient than querying Delphi.
In addition, Human Resources has an online index that answers many common HR questions, as well as a “How do I?” page with instructions for everything from finding staff development classes to adjusting the heat in your office. (See “On the Web” for more information.)
• Include enough details so that the respondent will be able to give you a satisfactory response. Follow-on questions are allowed.
• While it’s acceptable to make general comments about a situation that troubles you, be sure to include an actual question if you’re seeking a specific answer.
• At times you may be asked to revise the wording of a question to provide additional clarity, to protect your confidentiality, or to be more in tune with a spirit of collegiality.
• Avoid giving examples that cite the names of other individuals, unless such names are central to the nature of the question.