Nominal Group Technique

Posted on May 15 2009

A nominal group technique is a structured process originally developed as an organizational planning technique by Delbecq, Van de Ven and Gustafson in 1971.

The nominal method is a consensus planning tool that helps prioritize issues. It which identifies and ranks the major problems or issues that need addressing.

Usage of the Nominal Group Technique

1. Identifying the major strengths of a department/unit/institution (example: why are enrollments decreasing in the business courses? making decisions by concensus when selecting problem solutions in a business)

2. Providing each participant with an equal voice (example: defusing a domineering manager or influential employee who tends to control the discussion and dominate the brainstorm process)

Organizations have for a long time used various brainstorm techniques in the hopes of ensuring involvement and fair treatment amongst participants.

It has been found through studies and research that individuals not only produce more ideas when working alone but they do this without sacrificing quality. One possible explanation is that people fear they’ll look foolish or stupid, and, therefore censor themselves. This may occur despite instructions in how brainstorm is to be done (that is, without criticism or evaluation)

Another approach, the nominal group technique (NGT), uses a more structured format to obtain multiple inputs from several people on a particular problem or issue. Each technique may be appropriate given a specific situation; however, NGT is probably not used as often as it should be.

This technique was originally developed by Delbecq and VandeVen. This technique is a structured variation of small group discussion methods. The hominal group technique prevents the domination of discussion by a single person, encourages the more passive group members to participate, and results in a set of prioritized solutions or recommendations.

Underlying Principles

Nominal Group Technique is based on three fundamental principles:

1 ‘Nominal’ Groups are thought to generate more, better quality ideas than interacting groups typical of classic brainstorm. A nominal group consists of several people (usually gathered in one room) who are prepared to work as a team to resolve a problem. This sharing of ideas (which are anonymously submitted) promotes a sense of involvement and motivation within the group.

2 The ‘round robin’ element provides encouragement and equal opportunities for all members to contribute. Contribution from all participants is encouraged and every individual’s idea is given equal standing, whether unique or not.

3 Reliable communication requires that the recipient’s understanding of a message be checked with the sender, especially in the case of ‘new ideas’ being put forward. Checks for accurate communication are built in to the nominal group technique.

Classic Standard Procedure

Various forms of the procedure can be undertaken, however, the classical form suggested by Delbecq et al. uses the following steps:

1. A group is divided into small groups of 5-10 members, preferably seated around a table.

2. The facilitator states an open-ended question (” What are some ways we could eliminate the parking problem at our organization?”). The participants begin anonymous brainstorm in writing. The participants are given up to 10 minutes to jot down any initial ideas privately. The facilitator also writes down his own ideas. They would be encouraged to note the problem or issue that they feel is most important.

3. The facilitator runs a round-robin recording of ideas, allows each person in turn to read out one idea, which the facilitator writes up on a flip chart for all to view and numbered sequentially. This is repeated going around the groups until all ideas are exhausted and any duplicates are eliminated. The participants are told that no criticism of an idea is allowed, nor discussion at this time.

4. Serial discussion to clarify ideas and check communication is encouraged by the facilitator. Working through each ideas systematically asking for questions or comments with a view to developing a shared understanding of an idea. Discussions are calm and controlled to aid clarification of the idea, they are not heated debates

5. Request that each participant rank the top five problems or issues by assigning 5 points to their most important perceived problem and 1 point to the least important of their top five.

6. Tally the results by adding the points for each problem or issue. The problem or issue with the highest number is the most important one for the total team.

7. Discuss the results and generate a final ranked list for action planning. Further discussion and voting, takes place if the voting is not consistent. Steps 4 & 5 can be repeated and any ideas that received votes will be re-discussed for clarification.

Advtanges & Disadvantages

As with any technique , there are advantages and disadvantages. Some of the obvious advantages are that voting is anonymous, and opportunities exist for equal participation of group members. Influence and distractions common in oher group methods are minimized.

Disadvantages also exist in that opinions may not converge in the voting process. The process may seem too structured, and cross-fertilization of ideas may be constrained. The nominal group technique can be used as an alternative to both focus groups and the Delphi techniques.

It presents more structure than the focus group, but still takes advantage of the collaborative nature created by group participants. As its name suggests, the nominal group technique is only “nominally” a group, since the rankings are provided on an individual basis.

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