Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Nominal Group Technique

Prioritizing Issues And Projects To Achieve Consensus

When a group meets, it's often the case that people who shout loudest, or those with higher status in the organization, get their ideas heard more than others. So when it comes to gaining consensus on important decisions or priorities, how do you make sure you get true consensus and a fair decision for the group?

One technique to help with this is the Nominal Group Technique, a face-to-face process for gaining consensus. A typical application is in organizational planning, when a group needs to agree priorities in order to assign resources and funds.

The benefit of the technique is that the group shares and discusses all issues before evaluation, with each group member participating equally in evaluation. The evaluation works with each participant "nominating" his or her priority issues, and then ranking them on a scale of, say, 1 to 10.

Nominal Group Technique is just one group process for achieving consensus. Another group consensus technique is the Delphi Method, which is used among groups of experts to make complex decisions, usually without face-to-face meetings.

How to Use the Tool:

To use the Nominal Group Technique, use the following steps:

  1. Select a group leader and group participants. (The rest of the steps assume you are the group leader.)
  2. Present the topic and objectives, usually ahead of the group meeting. Typically the objective will be to identify issues or projects that are most important to the group or your organization.
  3. Ask the group members to discuss the topic, ask questions and seek clarifications.
  4. Allow participants time to consider the issues and projects they believe are the most important.
  5. Ask each participant to write down his or her priority issues or projects. If useful to do so, ask each group member to read aloud his or her responses, and give time to explain and elaborate on written responses.
  6. Record all the group's responses on a master list or a flipchart for the group to view.
  7. After all responses have been recorded, work through the responses together as a group and eliminate duplicates.
  8. Now ask participants to choose their top priorities: say 5 to 10, depending on the number of issues and projects that the group needs to agree on.
  9. Ask each participant to rank these in priority order.
  10. Collect the group members' rankings and combine these to form a collective response – this is the group's consensus on the ranking of important issues or projects.


In its annual planning meeting, a parents' group must reach consensus on which school projects to support in the coming year. With limited time and resources, the group must choose just 5 projects.

The group's planning meeting follows the Nominal Group Technique process to ensure a fair selection of priorities. The group members are asked to nominate and rank their 5 top projects. After de-duplicating the group members' responses, there are nine projects to rank. The highest priority is assigned "5" and the lowest is "1". The ranking grid below shows the projects that the group submitted and each member's priority ranking. The final column shows the group consensus on priorities, with the "Family Link" program being the highest priority.

By using the numbered ranking system with "5" high and "1" low, the group consensus can easily be found by adding up the rank scores of each group member. The highest score is the highest priority.
Group Member
Group consensus priorities
Family Link program
5 3   3 5 3 19 5 (high)
Literacy program
2 4 2 1 4 4 17 4
Community program
  5         5  
Annual fund raiser
1   1 2 3 2 9 1
Summer camp project
    5     5 10 2
School bus
fund raiser
3       2   5  
Book fund
  2 4   1 1 8  
After school
  1   5     6  
Work experience program
4   3 4     11 3

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