The nominal group technique was initially conceived by Andrew H. Van de Ven and Andrew L. Delbecq in their 1975 book Group techniques for program planning: A guide to nominal group and Delphi processes. The nominal group technique (NGT) is a brainstorming framework that encourages equal contribution from stakeholders and facilitates group consensus on key issues, problems, and their solutions.
Understanding the nominal group technique
One of the key traits of the NGT is an emphasis on enabling all participants to share their views and contribute to decision-making.
The technique enables those who may feel excluded from the brainstorming process to contribute to consensus, and is ideal in situations when:
- The team is dominated by one or two individuals.
- Some team members perform better when able to think in silence.
- There are concerns over a lack of participation from some individuals.
- The team’s ideas lack quality or quantity.
- There exists a power imbalance between the moderator and team members or within the team itself.
- The topic of discussion is controversial, and
- The team is comprised of new members.
The NGT five-step process
How does the NGT process play out? Let’s detail the five steps below.
Step 1 – Preparation and introduction
To start, a room should be prepared with tables arranged in a U-shape and a flip chart with masking tape, pens, and pencils placed at the open end of the U.
Chairs should be set out for teams between 5 and 9 individuals.
The facilitator then welcomes the team with an opening statement that explains the purpose and procedure of the session and also the importance of equal contribution.
Step 2 – Ideation
The facilitator then states the issue, problem, or question and asks each team member to write down as many solutions as possible in a set period.
Most teams shoot for 5 or 10 minutes, and this process must be carried out in silence.
Step 3 – Idea recording and sharing
In step three, team members share the ideas they have written down and each is recorded by the facilitator on the flip chart.
The facilitator works their way around the room until all ideas have been presented in a process that may take 30 minutes or so.
There must be no debate of ideas at this point.
Step 4 – Group discussion
In step four, the individuals are invited to seek further clarification on any of the ideas presented by others.
Duplicate or similar ideas can be eliminated and discussions should center on clarifying meaning, asking questions, explaining logic, or expressing agreement or disagreement.
The facilitator plays an important role here. They ensure that the team does not spend too long on a single idea and that the conversation does not become critical or judgemental. Allow for 30 to 45 minutes to complete this step.
Step 4 – Group discussion
Lastly, the team prioritizes the ideas with respect to the original issue, question, or problem.
Some teams use multivoting to narrow the list of potential solutions to a final choice or at least two or three potentials.
In keeping with the NGT, the voting process should be conducted in private before results are tallied.
Other teams may score each idea based on how much time or work is required to implement, with the most resource-intensive options attracting the highest scores.
Others still may rank the solutions based on specific criteria the facilitator has deemed the most important.
Regardless of how solutions are voted on or scored, the process should be written on the flip chart so that everyone feels included.
- The nominal group technique (NGT) is a brainstorming framework that encourages equal contribution from stakeholders and facilitates group consensus on key issues, problems, and their solutions.
- NGT is ideally suited to brainstorming sessions dominated by one or two individuals who may crowd out others with their personalities. It is also useful for new teams, quiet teams, controversial topics, or when brainstormed ideas lack in quality or quantity.
- The five simple steps of the nominal group technique include preparation and introduction, ideation, idea recording and sharing, group discussion, and voting and ranking.
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