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Nominal Group Technique

I attended an ELESIG webinar on Student Engagement Methods: a focus on the Nominal Group Technique (NGT) on 29 February 2012. The session focused on how this technique could be used to elicit feedback from students (or staff) on their experiences of learning technology or for them to give feedback on their learning. This technique encourages active engagement and the webinar explored how the technique works in a face-to-face environment.

Background

NGT is a structured face-to-face technique which was originally developed in the 1970s as a technique for making decisions in large groups. The term Nominal Group arises from the fact that the activity is a group only in name as it relies on individual contributions in a group environment. (O’ Neil and Jackson 1983, cited in Varga-Atkins et al. 2011)

NGT Structure

In an NGT activity, the facilitator introduces the structure and purpose of the activity to participants (staff or students). The question that participants need to answer must be focused and easily understood. (Varga-Atkins et al., 2011) The recommended number of participants for an NGT activity is 8-10 participants, but if you have multiple facilitators you can run a number of groups on the same topic.

Varga-Atkins et al. (2011) have outlined the stages of the activity as follows:

Post-its

Kakachu (2008) Post-its CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Stage 1: Individual responses to a single question are written on a series of post-its in silence. The facilitator leads a round robin of the group as each participants reads out their response and the facilitator places the post-its on a whiteboard and numbers them.  If NGT participants are providing multiple responses then the round robin continues until all response are read out.

Stage 2: Clarification can be asked for by group participants at this stage. Responses are consolidated into themes by the group.

Stage 3: Each individual ranks their top 5 responses. The facilitator then calculates the ranking results and shares with the group.

Mock NGT

To demonstrate the technique in action the webinar facilitators got all participants to respond to a question using the online whiteboard. This technique didn’t quite work in an online environment as you could see others responses while you were formulating your own ideas. It also proved difficult to complete the ranking stage on a whiteboard.

Benefits

The webinar participants outlined the following benefits for NGT participants:

  • Everyone has an opportunity to input a response
  • The technique provides for a wide breadth of responses
  • The technique can generate a large volume of data in a short amount of time
  • The structure of the technique helps to moderate group dynamics
  • The technique can promote a sense of ownership for participants
  • Students have said that they enjoy this method of providing feedback as it avoids survey fatigue

The webinar participants outlined the following benefits for facilitators:

  • Ensures quiet participants take part
  • Provides for an immediate response

Challenges

The webinar participants outlined the following challenges for NGT participants:

  • Consensus can be interpreted in a variety of ways
  • Grouping the ideas can be subjective
  • Participants might be too shy to ask for clarification
  • The process needs time to be explained. The webinar facilitators suggested sending a  reminder email about process and task to participants ahead of the activity
  • Participants may feel under pressure to perform in public
  • The activity is fast paced and participants have to stay alert

The final report generated from the NGT activity can be circulated and then sent to participants for further clarification.

When is the NGT useful?

Varga-Atkins et al. (2011 p. 5) have summarised when the technique is useful in different research and evaluation contexts:

Research Purpose For evaluation and decision making
Topic When you have one topic to explore
Likely research questions What changes might you make to your programme/curriculum?
Participants Participants with different power relations within the same group.

I’d be interested in finding out from your comments if you think this might be a useful technique to elicit student feedback on their experience of using learning technology and/or to get feedback on their learning.

References:

Varga-Atkins, T., with contributions from Bunyan, N; McIsaac, J; Fewtrell J. (2011) The Nominal Group Technique: a practical guide for facilitators. Written for the ELESIG Small Grants Scheme. Liverpool: University of Liverpool. October. Version 1.0 [online] Available from: http://www.slideshare.net/tundeva/the-nominal-group-technique-a-practical-guide-for-facilitators (Accessed: 29.2.12)

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  1. Rae K
    March 2, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    I’m really pleased you were able to attend this webinar as I thought its a very helpful technique. I wonder what your thoughts were in terms of how this technique could be used so some examples. Sadly I was looking to host this webinar but was off sick with the flu like virus! 😦

  2. March 5, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    Rae,

    I thought this could be a useful way of getting a committee to reach a decision on an issue or to get rich data on student use of learning technology for evaluation purposes.
    Olivia

  1. June 19, 2012 at 3:07 pm

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