The future of the Maritime Provinces: an application of the Delphi approach

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This essay argues that geographers should contribute more to futures research. The identification of consensi shared by people on desirable alternatives for change is shown to be a promising field of investigation for behavioral research, regional planning and geography teaching. The Delphi technique--a research procedure widely employed by "think tank" organizations but seldom by geographers in university departments--appears to be a powerful tool to this end. The methodology involves the use of experts in a situation of anonymous debate with the view of achieving a consensus of opinions relative to uncertain issues. After reviewing the pertinent literature dealing with futures, the paper reports on a prototype study conducted in the Madawaska region, a French-speaking enclave located in North-Western New Brunswick. A group of college students and community leaders were enrolled in a Delphilike experiment designed to explore how citizens view the geography of their region, how their understanding of the problems facing the region could be increased and what regional futures they apprehend as possible, probable and desirable. In a preliminary exercise, the students identified 123 changes which might come about in the Mari times. The list was then circulated to all participants who rated each change according to its perceived probability and expected date of occurence and its foreseen acceptability to the people. The results were then collated and fed back to the participants who reviewed their earlier opinions and rated the changes according to their perceived social desirability. The predictive power and substantive content of the resulting "collective forecast" are briefly analysed. Lists of likely and unlikely changes are produced using an index derived from the postulates of current futures models. The views of the Maritimes held by the student and non-student subgroups closely approximate each other. The sample is concerned with the quality of life based on increased mobility, decentralization and recreation opportunities, provincial rather than local or Maritime issues and agriculture and ocean resources rather than conventional industrialization. A critical review of the experiment directs its replication in the same and in other culture areas for purposes of geographical theory building, education of the participants and "time prospecting" proper.
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