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Understanding the Nominal Group Technique

written by: RobinRaven • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 4/29/2013

The nominal group technique is a method used for group decision making. It's similar to a vote, but it also takes the opinions of each individual member of the group into consideration.

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    What Sets It Apart From Other Methods

    The nominal group technique was developed and conceptualized by Delbecq and VandeVen. Simply put, it's a decision-making process and method, and it can be used for groups that are small or large. It's helpful when decisions need to be rendered in a timely manner, yet the company wants all of the opinions of the individuals in a group to factor within the decision in a bigger way than a simple "majority rules" voter pool.

    It's the method of tallying and coming to a resultant conclusion that sets the nominal group technique apart from other methods. The initial stage of the technique gives each individual a chance to state his opinion on what the solution should be. He's also allowed to elaborate slightly with a brief accompanying explanation about why he chose the way he did.

    Duplicate solutions are then eliminated from the pool, leaving only original solutions behind. The individuals then rank the remaining solutions according to numerical preference. All of these preferences are tallied and considered to render the most accurate results. While there are other variations on achieving this result in a nominal group technique, that's how it's traditionally done.

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    When to Avoid It

    Nominal Group Technique You should skip the nominal group technique if the work or issue at hand is excessively controversial, or if you think it may incite a heated debate. That's counterproductive to the work that should be completed.

    The nominal group technique is effective, but it's not ideal for use in every situation. For instance, it shouldn't be used when some members of the group are extremely outspoken and others are quite shy. It's not ideal for use if there are a lot of people who work better independently and without clearly expressing their opinions except for work done. In general, it shouldn't be used if there is an issue or consideration that a good percentage of group members will not desire to freely express their ideas. If the group is just getting to know one another, it can also be an ineffective tool because trust and comfort levels will be low.

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    Example of Use

    The nominal group technique is used effectively for many situations. For instance, if it's a non-profit group that's working a project, several people may be trying to come up with the best way to garner donations on a website for the holiday season. Someone may suggest the idea that showing a positive outcome for the charity through a visual image is the best way to encourage donors. Another person may feel that showing the stark imagery of the existing problem will encourage donors. Still others might propose that showing the work in progress is best.

    With the nominal group technique, everyone is then given a chance to state which is best and why it's best before the votes are in. After this, only the strongest choices will remain; each individual group then ranks their preferences numerically. The one that ends up highest overall ultimately is chosen.