Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Group creativity & Nominal Group Technique

with 3 comments

Brainstorming is a well-known technique for generating innovation, but it has problems. Among them:

People have a harder time coming up with alternative solutions to a problem when they are part of a group, new research suggests. Scientists exposed study participants to one brand of soft drink then asked them to think of alternative brands. Alone, they came up with significantly more products than when they were grouped with two others.

The finding could be good news for advertisers who buy spots during big events like the Super Bowl, since consumers often view those commercials with others.

The clouded thinking might also extend into corporate boardrooms.

“When a group gets together, they can miss out on good options,” study team member H. Shanker Krishnan told LiveScience. This could mean ordering from a pizza place advertised on television even if there’s a better option, or making a poor decision in the boardroom. “Whether it’s with family or a group of co-workers, we could very quickly fixate on things and all come up with the same options.”

The research appears in this month’s issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.

The researchers speculate that when a group of people receives information, the inclination is to discuss it. The more times one option is said aloud, the harder it is for individuals to recall other options, explained Krishnan, associate professor of marketing at Indiana University.

To overcome problems of this sort, Nominal Group Technique was developed. It gets its name because the members of the group actually are working individually, then pooling what they come up with—so it’s only nominally a group. It’s an extremely effective technique, especially when time is limited and the group leader wants more control of the process. The basics:

What: A technique similar to brainstorming. A very structured approach to generate ideas and survey the opinions of a small (10-15) group.

Why: NGT produces many ideas/solutions in a short time. Structured to focus on problems, not people; to open lines of communication; to ensure participation; and to tolerate conflicting ideas. Builds consensus and commitment to the final result.


  1. Present issue, instructions.
  2. Generate ideas, 5 to 10 minutes of quiet time, no discussion.
  3. Gather ideas round robin, one idea at a time, written on flip chart and posted.
  4. Process/clarify ideas—duplicates are eliminated, like ideas are combined. Limit discussion to brief explanations of logic or analysis of an item and brief agreement/disagreement statements. Focus on clarification of meaning, not arguing points.
  5. Set priorities silently and individually, no discussion.
  6. Tabulate priority votes.
  7. Develop an action plan.

Applied when you face:

  • Group decision-making with difficult or non-conforming groups and under time pressure.
  • Considering problems in staff meetings where political or status issues might reduce the input of some staff whose expertise is relevant.
  • Obtaining solution ideas in a way that allows everyone to feel that they participated and were heard—people who want to dominate the discussion are reined in, people who would sit silently are brought out.
  • Obtaining the input of a group while retaining the authority to make the decision independently.

Download full write-up (pdf).

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Written by Leisureguy

23 February 2007 at 9:42 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

3 Responses

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  1. I feel when I work as part of a group, brainstorming doesn’t work. That’s because that class is always 9am and I’m still half-asleep. Brainstorming at 1pm? Easy!



    13 February 2008 at 10:17 am

  2. Perhaps you will be interested in my Improved Nominal Group Technique (INGT), designed to supplant NGT. Will be pleased for you to present it on your website.

    The Improved Nominal Group Technique

    INGT is used for only one of the following purposes at a time: the identification and prioritization of problems or opportunities; determination of the best solution for a given problem; development of an implementation plan for a high-priority opportunity; the debugging and refinement of an existing, or proposed, policy manual or other document.

    Advance Preparation

    1. Information about INGT and its procedures should be distributed, and potential participants asked if they are willing to give it a try.

    2. Preferably, the purpose of the scheduled meeting is stated with sufficient time in advance of it for participants to drop anonymous inputs into a box at a nonmonitored location, and the numbering, duplication, and distribution of these inputs to them with time for them to reflect upon them. Also, they are asked to take the list to the scheduled meeting.

    If there is insufficient time for advanced duplication and distribution, participants are asked to prepare anonymous 3X5 cards to input at the beginning of the meeting.

    3. When the numbered and duplicated inputs are distributed to the participants in advance of a scheduled meeting, they are asked to jot down, anonymously, on 3X5 cards any additional inputs they wish to make at the meeting.

    If the distributed inputs are proposed solutions from an assigned individual or committee for a problem-solving meeting, they go with the request that any perceived deficiencies or inconsistencies be reported back, anonymously, to the distributor. The distributor then gives any such inputs to the author (or authors if a committee) with the option of revision and resubmission prior to distribution to the participants.

    The Meeting

    1. If there was a precirculated and numbered list of premeeting inputs, ensure that all participants have a copy. If not, anonymous-input 3X5 cards are collected by requesting that everyone submit a card – blank or other-wise – facedown on the table. These are shuffled and then transcribed to flipchart pages.

    2. The Discussion Phase begins: Items are dealt with in sequence as they appear on the premeeting distribution sheet (if there is one) and on the flipchart pages. Anyone may seek clarification as to what an item means, speak for or against it, but debate and personal criticisms are not permitted. Opportunity is presented for all items to be discussed before any voting takes place. Anyone may propose the rewording of an item or the combination of similar items (however the purpose here is not consolidation, per se – voters should have an optimal number of items to choose from). The leader asks if anyone objects to the change and only one nondiscussed objection blocks it; however, the proposer is free to verbally input it as a new item for the flipchart.

    During this phase, participants may prepare 3X5 cards for anonymous inputting via periodic card-collection rounds (at which everyone inputs a card – blank or otherwise). These are continued until all inputted cards are blank. Authorship of an anonymously inputted display item remains anonymous, unless the author wishes to provide noncoerced identification.

    3. The Voting Phase: If the meeting is for the identification and prioritization of problems or opportunities, a good rule-of-thumb is to ask participants to indicate, anonymously, on 3X5 cards the 15% most-important items, giving the most important the highest score. For example, if there are 40 remaining display items, 15% equals six items. So, the most important item number would receive a 6, the second most important a 5, and so on. The voting results are displayed on a flipchart page. Typically, several items will be clearcut winners, and there will be ten or so that are very close or almost tied. When this occurs, it is useful to reopen the Discussion Phase just for these items, and to have a vote just for them, to determine several more “winners” to add to the winners of the first vote.

    4. Individuals or Committees are then assigned the task of producing written, proposed solutions for each of the top-priority problems or implementation plans for each of the top-priority opportunities. This sets the stage for each proposed solution or opportunity-implementation plan to be dealt with in a separate INGT meeting.

    A complete presentation of INGT, with discussion of supporting research, will be found in my book: EFFECTIVE GROUP PROBLEM SOLVING: How to Broaden Participation, Improve Decision Making, and Increase Commitment to Action (Jossey-Bass, 1987).

    William M. Fox
    Professor Emeritus, University of Florida
    6605 SW 37th Way
    Gainesville, FL 32608
    (352) 376-9786


    William M. Fox

    25 August 2008 at 5:02 pm

  3. Many thanks! This will be featured in a post tomorrow. Watch for it. 🙂



    25 August 2008 at 5:05 pm

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