Nominal Group Technique
The Nominal Group Technique (NGT) is a five-step process for generating and prioritizing ideas, concerns and tasks relevant to a situation or challenge. It is an expansion on the brainstorming of ideas process, adding procedures to rank them.
Why use it? The nominal group technique provides structure so that everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute and to influence the outcome of a decision. It allows members to remain anonymous during the voting process. Members are given time to brainstorm individual lists and to select their own preferred items. Using this technique reduces the time it takes to reach consensus by discussion. It is versatile and can be used in several phases of problem solving or decision making.
When to use it: When a group needs to uncover a lot of information must be recorded and prioritized or when there are a number of alternatives, ideas, or problems from which to select, particularly when that information is already known to the participants.
The NGT is an effective way to “level the playing field” in a group while supporting diverse perspectives and assisting the group to reach a consensus. Because it is more structured than a discussion and allows less time for interactions, it is a good tool to use when group members do not know one another or when some group members might not otherwise speak up. It is particularly helpful at the beginning of a problem-solving session to identify important issues. Some other applications follow:
- Developing a problem statement;
- Generating possible causes of a problem;
- Selecting key areas for attention; or
- Evaluating any list of brainstormed ideas
How to use it: The meeting leader begins the process by stating the challenge or problem clearly. Write it where everyone can see it.
Examples: a) how can we respond more quickly to customer requests? Or b) what goals must we achieve in the upcoming year?
1. Silent generation: Ask each group member to write down as many ideas as possible working silently and independently.
2. Round-robin: The leader calls on each participant to provide one of their ideas related to the task statement. Each idea is recorded on a shared display without concern about redundant ideas. Encourage people to add new ideas to their lists as they think of them. Keep the round-robin process going, allowing members to pass when they have no more ideas. This continues until all ideas have been recorded or a preset time limit is reached.
3. Group clarification: This step is to clarify, modify and combine similar ideas in order for everyone to have a clear understanding of each idea. The desired outcome is to produce a “cleaned-up” list of ideas. Give each idea a letter of the alphabet for ease of reference later. If there are more than 26 items, continue with AA, BB, CC, etc. Discuss the list to make sure that everyone understands all the items. Ask everyone to look over the list and ask for clarification if needed, rather than reading each idea and asking for understanding; this usually takes too long and slows down the momentum of the group. Allow people to add new ideas as they think of them. Be sure to identify each of the new items with a letter also.
If someone suggests combining or categorizing ideas, explain that the purpose is to prioritize ideas, which will not be possible if they have been put into categories. However, if two people agree that their ideas are identical, combine the two ideas into one. Make sure that the wording represents the full meaning of both statements.
4. Voting and ranking: Give each member a stack of 3” by 5” cards. Determine the number of cards as follows: If there are fewer that twenty brainstormed ideas, give the group members four cards each to select and rank the top four items. If the list has from twenty to thirty-five items, use six cards and have members rank six items. Use eight cards for thirty-six to forty items. If there are more than fifty items, see if any group members want to eliminate less-significant items they have contributed. (No one is allowed to remove someone else’s item form the list.)
Participants individually rank what they think are the best ideas in the context of issues or problems facing the group. Tell people to write one item per card, along with its letter identifier. Next, ask each person to rank the choices by assigning points to each card as follows: If using four cards, assign four points to the most important item, three points to the second most important, and so on. If using six cards, assign six points for the most important item, and so fourth.
Tally the points while the group takes a break. A quick way to do this is to sort the cards according to the items (using the letters assigned) and add up the points each item received.
Then, on the shared display, the leader collects all of the rankings and combines them into a group ranking of the ideas. Include the top four to twelve items — more if it better represents the results.
If further ranking or thinning of ideas is required pass out a new stack of cards. The same number as previous. Advise members that they are allowed to change their first selections. Referring to the original list, advise members to give a value of 100 to their highest ranking idea and a value from 1-99 for each remaining item indicating its value to them. Tell people to write the number in the upper right hand corner of the card and to use a number only once. Again tally the results.
5. Discussion of results: The leader then leads a discussion of the results. Make sure that group members understand the reasons were selected as high priority. Ask if there is an item that did not make the top list, one that merits further discussion and consideration. Allow time for the group to briefly discuss these items. What does this final list indicate? Based on the results, how should we proceed? What might have happened if we had not used this technique?”
The nominal group technique is not simply a voting process, but a structured, narrowing down process to allow for discussion of the most important items.
Compiled by Rae Stonehouse
Rae A. Stonehouse is an author, speaker, and self-publishing consultant dedicated to helping others embrace constant improvement and overcome challenges. With over 40 years of experience as a Registered Nurse in psychiatry and mental health, Rae brings a wealth of knowledge and passion for self-development to his writing and presentations.
As a 25+ year member of Toastmasters International, Rae has systematically built his communication abilities and self-confidence to share his insights as an author and speaker. His self-help books and personal development presentations aim to have conversational one-on-one connections with readers and audiences.
Rae is known for his wry sense of humor and sage advice delivered in a relatable coaching style. After four decades as a nurse, Rae has rewired rather than retired, actively writing and pursuing public speaking. He strives to share lessons learned to help others achieve personal and professional growth.