March 1984 // Volume 22 // Number 2 // Ideas at Work // 2IAW2

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Nominal Group Technique: An Alternative to Brainstorming


John A. Sample
Executive Director
Professional Development Specialist
Tallahassee, Florida

Extension educators have for a long time used various techniques in the. hopes of ensuring Involvement and commitment of 'fair and their client/consumers. Many of these techniques are group oriented, Brain storming, for example. has the obective of giving Participants an opportunity to engage in creative Problem solving. Another approach, the nominal group technique (NGT), uses a more structured format to obtain multiple inputs from several people on a particular problem or issue. Each technique may be appropriate given a specific situation; however, NGT is probably not used as often as it should be.


In one research experiment, individuals working alone. and then in groups were asked to brainstorm a list of ideas using procedures that encouraged creativity and discouraged criticism and evaluation. The scores of the individuals who worked alone were combined. averaged, and compared with the scores of the groups. The results indicated that " individuals not only produce more Ideas when working alone but they do this without sacrificing quality."1 One possible explanation is that people. fear they'll look foolish or stupid, and ,therefore censor themselves. This may occur despite instructions in how brainstorming is to be done (that is, without criticism or evaluation)

Nominal Group Technique

A possible alternative to brain storming is NGT. This technique was originally developed by Delbecq and VandeVen2 and has been applied to adult education program planning by Vedros3. This technique is a structured variation of small group discussion methods. The process prevents the domination of discussion by a single person, encourages the more passive group members to participate, and results in a set of prioritized solutions or recommendations. The steps to follow in NGT are:

  1. Divide the people present into small groups of 5 or 6 members, preferably seated around a table.
  2. State an open-ended question (" What are some ways we could encourage participants to car pool?").
  3. Have each Person spend several minutes in silence individually brainstorming all the possible ideas and jot these ideas down.
  4. Have the groups, collect the ideas by sharing them roundrobin fashion (one response per person each time), while all are recorded in key term, on a flipchart. No criticism is allowed, but clarification in response to questions is encouraged.
  5. Have each person evaluate the ideas and individually and anonymously vote for the best ones (for example, the, best idea gets Points, next best 4 Points, etc).
  6. Share votes within the group and tabulate. A group report is prepared, showing the ideas receiving the most points.
  7. Allow time for brief group presentations on their solutions.

NGT Advantages and Disadvantages

As with any technique, there are advantages and disadvantages. NGT Is no exception. Some of the obvious advantages are that voting is anonymous, there are opportunities for equal participation of group members and distractions (communication "noise") inherent in other group methods are minimized. As to disadvantages, opinions may not converge in the voting process, cross-fertilization, of ideas may be constrained, and the process may appear to be too mechanical.

NGT can be one more tool for Extension Educators to use in helping staff, volunteers. clients, and consumers improve their ability to make sound decisions.


  1. M D. Dunnette, J. D, Campbell, and K Jaastad, "The Effect of Group Participation no Brainstoming Effectiveness for Two Industrial Samples, Journal of Applied Psychology, XLVII (February, 1963), 30-37.
  2. A.. L. Delbecq and A. H VandeVen, "A Group Process Model for Problem Identification and Program Planning," Journal Of Applied Behavioral Science VII (July/August, 1971), 466 -91 and A. L. Del becq, A. H. VandeVen, and D. H. Gustafson, Group Techniques for Program Planners (Glenview, Illinois: Scott Foresman and Company, 1975).
  3. K. R. Vedros,"The Nominal Group Technique is a Particiatory, Planning Method In Adult Education"(Ph.D. dissertation, Florida State University, Tallahassee, 1979)