Human operators of advanced technology systems, such as nuclear power, command and control, and deepwater oil drilling, must be able to evaluate and respond to a wide array of operational anomalies. Unfortunately, these circumstances are often complex and ambiguous, complicating decision-making tasks. One common decision-making error, called confirmation bias, occurs when decision makers prematurely focus on one explanation instead of systematically considering all plausible alternative explanations that could equally well account for an operational anomaly.

The Delphi display is designed to counteract decision makers’ tendencies toward confirmation bias and to encourage them to consider all plausible explanations, including high-risk explanations they might otherwise overlook. An initial Delphi display prototype was designed to help identify the underlying cause of operational anomalies in the complex, high-consequence technology of deepwater drilling. This prototype decision aid incorporates major indicators related to operational anomalies and presents corresponding plausible explanations for a given combination of indicators, ranging from high-risk system-critical explanations to lower-risk but still significant events. The Delphi display incorporates several innovative features to help decision makers detect and monitor operational anomalies and view the relationships among indicators and their associated plausible explanations.

Preliminary evaluations of an early prototype Delphi display for detecting kicks in deepwater oil drilling operations have been promising. Moreover, the methodology used to design and develop the Delphi display can be readily generalized to numerous other operational contexts that require humans to make system-critical decisions. To illustrate, an initial Delphi display design for nuclear power plant control is described.