The Nominal Group Technique

Originally developed as an organizational planning technique by Delbecq, Van de Ven and Gustafson in 1971, the nominal group technique is a consensus planning tool that helps prioritize issues.

In the nominal group technique, participants are brought together for a discussion session led by a moderator. After the topic has been presented to session participants and they have had an opportunity to ask questions or briefly discuss the scope of the topic, they are asked to take a few minutes to think about and write down their responses. The session moderator will then ask each participant to read, and elaborate on, one of their responses. These are noted on a flipchart. Once everyone has given a response, participants will be asked for a second or third response, until all of their answers have been noted on flipcharts sheets posted around the room.

Once duplications are eliminated, each response is assigned a letter or number. Session participants are then asked to choose up to 10 responses that they feel are the most important and rank them according to their relative importance. These rankings are collected from all participants, and aggregated. For example:

Overall measure

Response Participant 1 Participant 2 Participant 3 Importance
A ranked 1st ranked 2nd ranked 2nd 5 = ranked 1st
B ranked 3rd ranked 1st ranked 3rd 7 = ranked 3rd
C ranked 2nd ranked 3rd ranked 1st 6 = ranked 2nd
D ranked 4th  ranked 4th ranked 4th 12 = ranked 4th

Sometimes these results are given back to the participants in order to stimulate further discussion, and perhaps a readjustment in the overall rankings assigned to the various responses. This is done only when group consensus regarding the prioritization of issues is important to the overall research or planning project.

The nominal group technique can be used as an alternative to both the focus group and the Delphi techniques. It presents more structure than the focus group, but still takes advantage of the synergy 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.


Related Readings (Ritchie, J.R.B., E.L., Ch. 42 in Ritchie and Goeldner)