Delphi: A record of what’s on our minds

Since 1974, UCAR/NCAR has offered a Delphi Service whereby staff members can anonymously submit questions to management about policy, procedures, and other issues. Nearly 600 such questions have been submitted over the years, covering a wide range of topics: salaries, funding, recycling, smoking, pesticides, snow removal, dress code, drug testing, parking, vacation time, dental coverage, pet care, child care, office temperatures, cafeteria music, fitness center, polyamorous employees, carbon offsets, and much more.

Along with its serious function, Delphi gives an entertaining glimpse into how time and technology have changed our work lives and daily concerns. One notable trend is that very few questions address scientific research, whereas hiring practices, salaries, and funding are routine topics. Some questions, such as repeated queries about a day care center, have borne fruit, leading to changes in facilities or policies. Other subjects, such as offensive office decorations and smoking policies, reflect major social changes working their way into the workplace. Questions focusing on energy use and environmental stewardship have increased in recent years.

Regardless of where Delphi trends go, there’s one thing we can say for sure: UCAR/NCAR staff have a deep and persistent interest in prairie dog management, American flags, snow removal practices, and dental coverage.

Switchboard operators in the '60s.NCAR’s switchboard operators in the Communication Center in 1970. These days, the NCAR Operator, which is based in CISL/NETS, handles about 12,000 calls per year.  


1975: The good ol' days before email, cell phones, texting, videoconferencing…..

“I have a complaint about the telephone service. It is my understanding that neither of the regular telephone operators is here today, so a temporary gal is filling in…. Although the replacement is doing her best, she is obviously having a difficult time meeting the demands of the switchboard. I called and the phone rang for a full two minutes. Once it was answered I was asked if I would hold, so I did--for another two minutes. I was again told, "Just a minute," when I asked to be connected to the Colorado FTS operator. I waited--and waited--and waited…. My complaint is with the system--not with the gal who is filling in.”

Gary Aitken on a horse outside the Mesa Lab. Gary Aitken and his horse (name unknown) commuting to work at the Mesa Lab in the ‘70s.

 1977: When bikes, mopeds, and horses competed for parking

 (Note: This question was prompted by competition at bike racks between bikes and mopeds. As for the reference to horses, our  best guess is that it relates to the fact that staff member Gary Aitken was commuting on horseback and "parking" on th e mesa during this time.)

“I propose that the way to tell a motorcycle from a bicycle is that the motorcycle has a motor. If it is a motorcycle, it should park with its big brothers. If it is a bicycle (not a horse), it can park in the bike rack.”



 1979: Why does the Delphi questioner always lose?

(Note: UCAR/NCAR staff are known for thinking about the big picture. Occasionally, we get a Delphi question that tackles philosophical issues.)

“Question: Why does the Delphi questioner always lose?

Answer: Because he or she is frequently not asking a question but making a suggestion, and the Delphi system is not well set up for dealing with suggestions. The Delphi process severely limits management's ability to find out what the person actually has in mind, what problem is being solved, what alternatives have been considered and rejected, and so on.”


1989: Flummoxed over fax machines

 “Why is it not possible to send or receive communications by fax at the Mesa Lab after 4:00 p.m. on weekdays?....Is this ignorance on the part of management about what we do at NCAR, a disregard for the importance of communications in NCAR's role as a national center, or simple neglect of management's duty to keep the NCAR staff supported for its role?....Why do we have a fax machine which cost many hundred dollars lying unused during business hours and on the weekends?”


2000: Perplexing plumbing 

“I've been wondering ever since they were installed exactly how the ‘auto-flush’ toilets are supposed to save water . . . or are they? I've never seen the advantage in them, but when, recently, and not for the first time, one flushed three times while I was in the stall, I thought they must actually be wasting water.”


2006: Editor’s Choice: “The Dude” speaks up

(Note: It’s great when Delphi questioners have a sense of humor. If you don’t get this one, we suggest watching a certain cult classic film by the Coen brothers about bowling.)

“Our plans to start a UCAR bowling team may be adversely affected if what I hear is true—that the Employee Activities Committee (EAC) is no longer partially funding UCAR employees' team entry fees. In the parlance of our times, what's the deal? Is the EAC no longer partially funding running, biking, or what-have-you teams?.... Would it be possible to get an EAC team refund if we avoid bowling on Shabbos, Easter, Christmas, or what-have-you? The EAC team refunds were small amounts. It's not like we ever got a briefcase full of money!.... Did new EAC policies come to light?”