(Image source, Rod Baxter)
The nominal group technique is a group extension process that can be used to generate outcomes and facilitate decision making around ideas, issues or problems, by a group. The process is excellent for getting out individual group members thoughts and ideas, without the risk of them feeling over scrutinised by their fellow members. It uses processes that enable equal and open contribution by all members, which is a real strength of the process.
The technique can be particularly useful for the following group extension challenges:
- To ensure all ideas from a group are gathered.
- If it is important that all group members have their views “heard”.
- To gain group consensus.
- If peer pressure is needed to be removed from a decision making process.
- To ensure the opinion of all group members is understood.
- If some group members are likely to be more vocal, to the detriment of hearing other points of view.
- If some group members think better with some time to reflect.
- When there is concern about some members not fully participating.
- When a group does not easily generate ideas from scratch.
- When all or some group members are new to a group.
- When an issue is controversial, or there is potential for conflict.
Carrying Out the Nominal Group Technique
You will need:
- A group facilitator
- Butchers paper or white board
- White board markers or felt tipped pens
- A pad of sticky notes for each group member
Welcome the members, introduce the topic/issue; explain that their role is to explore the topic/issue individually and then as a group; explain that thinking of the group on the topic will be gathered and explain how that output is to be used.
The facilitator writes the problem, issue or question up on butchers paper or a white board. They then ask all group members to work quietly by themselves and write down their ideas on the topic in short sentences, one idea per sticky note. Until all their ideas are exhausted.
The facilitator then gathers the sticky note pads, one participant at a time and sticks each idea up on the butchers paper or white board. As each pad is worked through, like ideas can be grouped together. As an idea is posted, it can be discussed for clarity, context and to identify its relative importance by the facilitator and group members. This is a key opportunity for participants to question and discuss ideas with each other. As ideas are posted, this may trigger additional thinking by participants. The facilitator invites participants to jot down any new ideas on sticky notes during this time.
Source: Sustainable Sanitation and Water Management (SSWM)
The facilitator collects and sticks up any new ideas that have been generated by group members during step 2. Additional questioning and discussion around those ideas is invited at this time.
The facilitator encourages discussion around any obvious grouping of ideas; in doing so they need to ensure no idea is lost in the process or things become over simplified.
The facilitator asks each participant to prioritise the ideas that have been posted up. To do so, they ask each group member to identify the five most important ideas, from their perspective. The facilitator gives each participant a pen and they tick each sticky note that they have prioritised. Once all participants have done this step. Any un-ticked notes are then considered as low priority, this is first checked with the group and participants allowed to speak to a note if needs be. The un-ticked notes will not be voted on in Step 6. By this process two outputs have been generated by the group: All of their ideas on a topic and a list of their priority ideas.
Each participant is given three votes. They can apply all three votes to one of the prioritised ideas or spread them across up to three ideas. Using a different coloured pen to Step 5, participants now place their votes on the sticky notes. The facilitator then tallies the votes and the sticky notes with the highest number of votes are then considered to be the very highest priorities as set by the group.
To close the process the facilitator may do a whip around with the group, asking each participant their thoughts on the outcome and how they feel about it.
The facilitator documents with the group any key actions or next steps.
During the entire process, it is important that the facilitator ensures each idea posted is understood, respected and that each gets a fair hearing from the group.
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