The Nominal Group Technique As an Alternative to the Unstructured Focus Group As a Qualitative Research Tool in Marketing

Jerome M. Katrichis, The University of Michigan
ABSTRACT - In an effort to expand the qualitative tool bag of marketing researchers, the purpose of this paper is to introduce marketing researchers to a widely used qualitative group research technique from the organizational development literature, known as the "Nominal Group Technique," (NGT), (c.f. Delbecq, Van de Ven, and Gustafson 1975). NGT was developed due to certain limitations earlier group research technologies encountered and utilizes advantages of both nominal groups (where members work in isolation, and are groups in name only), and interacting groups (where members regularly interact).
[ to cite ]:
Jerome M. Katrichis (1987) ,"The Nominal Group Technique As an Alternative to the Unstructured Focus Group As a Qualitative Research Tool in Marketing", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 14, eds. Melanie Wallendorf and Paul Anderson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 563.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 14, 1987      Page 563

THE NOMINAL GROUP TECHNIQUE AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO THE UNSTRUCTURED FOCUS GROUP AS A QUALITATIVE RESEARCH TOOL IN MARKETING

Jerome M. Katrichis, The University of Michigan

ABSTRACT -

In an effort to expand the qualitative tool bag of marketing researchers, the purpose of this paper is to introduce marketing researchers to a widely used qualitative group research technique from the organizational development literature, known as the "Nominal Group Technique," (NGT), (c.f. Delbecq, Van de Ven, and Gustafson 1975). NGT was developed due to certain limitations earlier group research technologies encountered and utilizes advantages of both nominal groups (where members work in isolation, and are groups in name only), and interacting groups (where members regularly interact).

OPERATIONALIZING NGT

In an NGT session, individuals are brought into a room, where, for the first ten to twenty minutes there is no interaction. In full view of each other, individuals spend time writing down as many ideas as they can think of in response to a moderator's question. In a marketing application, questions might be on the order of: What problems have you had with your current fabric softener? What issues do you consider when shopping for food for your family? etc. Generally, an NGT session deals with one question only, so the question needs to be constructed carefully 80 as to stimulate the types of information flows required. It is conceivable that more than one question be administered and the session be divided, taking one question at a time. After this initial period, ideas are shared in a very structured fashion. Each individual provides from his or her private list, one of their ideas. This is done in a round-robin fashion until each individual indicates they have nothing more to share. This step is done without discussion until all ideas are recorded on a flip chart. These ideas are to be listed in the suggestor's own words and can be clarified later in the process.

When all ideas are recorded, a period of discussion much like a traditional focus group ensues for the purpose of clarification of recorded ideas. The discussion opens with a serial discussion of the ideas listed on the flip chart. Each idea is presented and participants can ask for clarification or discussion. This step insures that all ideas are given equal status, and prevents dominant individuals from monopolizing the conversation. Once all ideas are understood, a nominal (anonymous) voting procedure is used in which each respondent rates or ranks the presented ideas in terms of the importance of the idea to them. These ratings or rankings can be combined to determine overall ratings or rankings. Such ratings will help give the researcher an understanding of the structure of the problem or opportunity in terms of the respondents most important dimensions.

ADVANTAGES OF NGT

Delbecq, Van de Ven, and Gustafson (1975, ch.2), summarize several studies designed to compare NGT with interacting groups. The nominal groups were found in general to be superior to interacting groups in terms of satisfaction of participants with the group process, and quantity and quality of ideas generated. Further, individuals in NGT groups felt a greater sense of accomplishment and a greater interest in future phases of decision making than interacting groups.

NGT is superior to unstructured focus groups in balancing participation and affording an equal status to all participants. Hence, NGT groups impose no restrictions on the number, heterogeneity, or previous acquaintanceship of the participants. In as much as the technique was developed with group decision making within organizations in mind (Delbecq and Van de Ven 1971), it seems natural that both acquaintanceship and heterogeneity are expected.

Because NGT groups can be said to be generally more structured than are focus groups, moderator training needs will tend to be lover. Generally, the more structured a technique is, the easier it is to train moderators. Some authors (c.f. Goldman 1962) advocate very low structure interviewing processes in focus groups and suggest that effective moderators have a level of training which includes a background in clinical psychology. While NGT moderators should have some training, the skill requirements are not nearly as high.

APPLICABILITY OF NGT

Calder (1977), delineates three approaches to qualitative methodology including: an exploratory approach, where problems are defined, a clinical approach, where the objective is to get past surface reasons for behavior, and a phenomenological approach, where the client or moderator attempts to see things from the respondents point of view and in the respondents own terms.

Calder's work takes a philosophy of science perspective to focus groups. The value of Calder's work to practitioners using focus groups is the realization that the methodologies appropriate are differentially applicable to the various approaches to focus group research. Calder hypothesized that group size, required expertise of moderators, degree of moderator intervention, and degree of group heterogeneity required for focus group interviews are different under the three different approaches. Be also comments about the appropriateness of such aspects of the focus group as verbatim quotes and management observation under the three approaches.

Of Calder's three approaches to focus groups, NGT seems most applicable to the exploratory approach having limited phenomenological applicability and no applicability to clinical approaches. While NGT insures a greater number and quality of ideas generated, it offers less opportunity for the embellishment and detailed explanations looked for in the clinical or phenomenological approaches. Where quantity of ideas is at a premium, such as in product development types of explorations NGT will prove superior to the traditional unstructured focus group.

NGT may also be important when it is desirable to include individuals of different statuses within groups in order to get representation of various role players. This may be especially valuable in purchase situations where the purchase is typically a group decision such as complex family purchases and organizational purchase or other decision processes.

REFERENCES

Calder, Bobby J. (1977), "Focus Groups and the Nature of Qualitative Marketing Research," Journal of Marketing Research, 14, pp. 353-364.

Delbecq, A. and A.a. V n de Ven (1971) "A Group Process model for Problem Identification and Program Planning," Journal Of Applied Behavioral Science, Vol 7, no. 4, pp. 466-492.

Delbecq, A. ,A.a. Van de Ven,ant D. Gustafson (1975) Group Techniques for Program Planning. Glenview, IL: Scott, Forseman and Company.

Goldman, Alfred F. (1962), "The Group Depth Interview, Journal of Marketing, (July), pp. 61-68.

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