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  • Nominal Group Technique

  • Nominal Group Technique (NGT) is a structured method for generating a list of ideas and/or condensing ideas into a manageable number. It is more formal and structured than simple brainstorming or multivoting.

    NGT is called 'nominal' because there is minimal dialogue or interaction among the team. The relatively low amount of interaction makes it an effective tool for approaching controversial issues. NGT can also be used to defuse a domineering staff member or influential employee who would otherwise control the discussion and dominate the process. NGT allows each team member to have an equal say and vote on each topic. Because of this equality, it can help build team ownership of decisions.

    NGT has two stages – formalized brainstorming and decision-making.

    Formalized Brainstorming: the steps in Formalized Brainstorming are similar to general brainstorming; however everything is written down. Before the meeting, the team leader or facilitator prepares a question which is then posed at the beginning of the meeting. At that time, he or she also describes the purpose of the discussion and the team rules and procedures. The steps are:

    1. Introduce and clarify the question. The leader may want to display the question on a chalkboard, whiteboard, overhead, etc., and/or provide a handout for easy reference. 
    2. Ask the group to explain their understanding of the question. This discussion should not evolve into a discussion of the issue itself.
    3. Generate ideas – ask team members to write down their thoughts, in silence. There should be no whispering, moving around or joking. Those that finish first should sit quietly until the others are finished.
    4. When everyone is finished, ask each member to read one idea from his or her list. Write each idea on a flipchart. Continue around the team until everyone has given all of their ideas, or at the end of 30 minutes. There is to be no talking during this step – no discussion, no questions.
    5. If the ideas occupy more than one page of the flipchart to display, remove all of the pages and post them next to each other, on a wall. Make sure everyone can see all of the ideas. Ask if anyone has any questions. The person who offered the idea should be the one to answer the question. Others may join into the discussion to help clarify and focus the wording of the idea. The wording may be changed with the agreement of the person who originally offered the idea.
    6. When there are no more questions, condense the list as much as possible, but require the originators of any ideas to be combined to give consent. If the brainstorming generated more than 50 ideas, try some method of reducing the list. One approach is to let team members withdraw the less serious ideas they put on the list. No one is allowed to remove another member’s idea.
    7. Once the list has been condensed, number each idea for ease of reference. 

    Making the Decision 

    1. Give every member a set of index cards or sheets of paper. The number of cards or paper should be a rough fraction of the number of ideas on the list – 4 cards for 20 items, 6 cards for 35 items, 8 cards for 36-50 items, etc.
    2. Ask the members to select ideas from the list according to their own sense of what is important. Have them write one item per card.
    3. Ask each team member to write a numeric ranking on each card (1 through 4 if 4 cards were distributed, 1-6 if 6 cards, etc.), with the highest value going to the most important or best idea.
    4. After each member has assigned a value to each of their selected ideas, collect the cards and tally the votes. It is easiest to record directly on the flipchart pages, noting the point value next to each idea. The item with the highest total point value is the team’s selection for the most important item.
    5. Review the results as a group, and discuss the findings. Are there any surprises? Any objections? Is another vote called for?
    6. Should the team disagree on the top priority idea selected using NGT steps, the team may opt to spread their efforts over two or three of the highest scoring (total point value).