Nominal group process

$5k to $15k
estimated cost of external help
  • Prioritise options
  • Confirm options
  • Consult
0-2 weeks
estimated run time
3-5 weeks
estimated lead time
Confident facilitator
recommended experience
This technique is a quick and easy to use method to generate and prioritise ideas. It uses individual idea generation to maximise the number of ideas and improve participation from quieter group members. It then uses presentation and dot voting to prioritise ideas and come to a consensus on an outcome.
Not limited to ‘idea generation’, nominal group process can also be used to clarify key issues, determine budget priorities or build consensus around anything that requires getting from brainstorming to action quickly and easily.

In 5 steps...

  1. Determine your question. Keep it focused and based in the participants sphere of experience and expertise. For example asking a group of random community members how to improve public transport in their town will result in many ideas that are unfeasible or unviable. Instead focus on something they are an expert on – like their experience, or barriers to taking public transport, which will be more meaningful input for town planners.
  2. Ask your participants to brainstorm independently for several minutes in response to your question.
  3. Depending on the size of your group, break into sub-groups of 5-6 to present each response in a round-robin style, clustering responses which are the same or similar.
  4. Allow time for clarification of the responses. Participants shouldn’t comment as to whether the response is good or bad, but instead aim to ensure they fully understand each response.
  5. Each participant in the group get a certain number of votes (usually between one and five). These votes are used to determine which responses are most important, to develop consensus on the next step or other outcome.

When to use it

Nominal group process is useful when you feel confident that a group has all the knowledge it needs to make a decision, it just needs a small amount of facilitation to gain consensus.

It is most useful at points where there is a limited set of possibilities, but these are in the heads of ‘experts’, and as such cannot be reviewed, or prioritised. This is often evidenced by circular discussions where you are covering the same or similar ground without resolution. A common example occurs in review processes – determining what could be improved on. As such, nominal group process is commonly used in agile process retrospectives.


  • Immediate visibility of ideas, changes, feedback or proposed solutions.
  • Quick feedback.
  • Fast input for decision-making.
  • Reduces circular conversations that go nowhere and disrupt a process.
Long term
  • Improved reception of the final output.
  • Better relationships between the project team and key stakeholders.


  • Unlike the colloquialism “ask a silly question, you’ll get a silly answer”, with this process it’s all about who you are asking which determines the quality of the question and answers you’ll get. To avoid silly answers, keep the question relevant to the participant group. Participants might have different backgrounds, but should have a similar level of expertise, knowledge or capability in the matter at hand.
  • The process can feel overly simplistic. If you are tackling a complex issue using this method, you may want to add in additional steps, such as a second round of brainstorming to take into account ideas generated from other peoples’ ideas or perspectives. Alternately you might task groups with researching or assessing the top 5 voted responses, and presenting back before a second round of voting.
  • Because of the need to bring together people with similar levels of expertise, you will need to address a potential lack of diversity within the group – particularly if you are asking them for ideas. Consider who else might have the right level of knowledge but bring a different perspective. For example, in addressing impact of a curriculum change it might be beneficial to invite out-of-school tutors, and school counsellors, in addition to teaching staff.



  • Consider your question carefully. Will your participants be able to provide input which is viable, feasible and actionable? If not, rework it until you reasonably believe all participants con meaningfully contribute.

During the process

  • Be ready to adjust your process or question if you are not getting the results you need. Be honest about what you need to achieve and ask your participants how you might reframe the question if you are not getting the expected outcome or responses are too vague to be useful.
  • Use the clarify section of the process for yourself as much as anyone else. If you don’t understand it, chances are other people won’t either, and you could be missing out on an important input.


  • Share any outcomes or actions with participants. If the process has resulted in anything they need to action themselves, be sure to make this clear in follow-up communications.