- Systematic review
- Open Access
Not just another focus group: making the case for the nominal group technique in criminology
© Vander Laenen; licensee Springer. 2015
- Received: 2 June 2014
- Accepted: 23 December 2014
- Published: 4 March 2015
The Nominal Group Technique (NGT) is seldom applied in criminological research. This article explores the potential of NGT as a tool for criminological research.
NGT is a highly structured technique combining characteristics of an individual survey and a focus group.
It offers various benefits: 1) it limits researcher influence and influence from group dynamics; 2) increases the likelihood of equal participation for all group members; 3) affords equal influence to (conflicting) values and ideas; 4) can be used in an exploratory (phase of a) study as well as to generate hypotheses about topics that are unfamiliar to the researcher; and 5) is useful for determining the ideas of a research population that is socially or culturally different from that of the researcher.
NGT is particularly relevant in applied research as a decision-making tool and as a consensus method. It also holds promise as an online tool for criminological research focused on sensitive topics where participants take part anonymously.
- Group technique
- Online tool
NGT is a highly structured technique combining characteristics of an individual survey and a focus group. Its structure limits researcher influence and influence from group dynamics. It increases the likelihood of equal participation for all group members and equal influence of (conflicting) values and ideas. NGT can be used in an exploratory (phase of a) study, can be used to generate hypotheses about topics which are relatively unfamiliar to the researcher, or to become familiar with the ideas found to be relevant to a research population that is socially and culturally different from the researcher. NGT is particularly relevant in applied research as a decision-making tool and as a consensus method. Its purpose is to gain insight into the problems or issues of importance and to identify solutions for these problems and issues. Since NGT limits the influence of group members with perceived high status, the technique is also valuable in research where participants have different levels of power.
Suggestions for further reading
Delbecq, A.L., Van de Ven, A.H., & Gustafson, D.H. (1975). Group techniques for program planning: a guide to nominal group technique and Delphi processes. Glenview, Illinois: Scott Foresman.
As the title suggests, it is a practical guide that explains in detail the NGT. With regard to the NGT, it includes a description of preparatory tasks, of the NGT process, its strengths and weaknesses and responses to frequently asked questions regarding the technique.
Merton, R.K., Fiske, M., & Kendall, P.L. (1990). The focussed interview, A manual of problems and procedures, Second Edition. New York: The Free Press.
The manual does not focus on NGT but it does provide vary useful information for researchers doing group interviews. In particular, it provides practical information on strategies for the moderator of a group to minimize undesirable forms of social interaction.
aA basic WoS search of the term ‘focus group’ resulted in more than 12,000 hits.
bNGT was developed in 1968 by Delbecq et al. and is derived from research in social psychology. NGT was originally developed as a technique to facilitate the involvement of disadvantaged citizens (Eisele, 2007).
cRead on for a detailed discussion.
dA basic WoS search of the term ‘Nominal Group Technique’ generated nearly 500 hits.
eA basic WoS search of the term ‘nominal group’ under the category “criminology and penology” resulted in only one hit: a study by Zastrow (1973).
fIn 2014 we used NGT as part of a three-stage mixed method design study to conduct a needs assessment study on harm reduction strategies in a local community (stage one is a needs assessment via interviews with multi-agency experts and focus groups with problem drug users; stage two is a two-part validation of the identified needs via a modified online NGT; stage three is a feasibility study via focus groups with professionals and drug users).
hThe road map consisted of a detailed description of the wording of the introduction, the goal and the procedure of the meeting, the central research question, the NG-format consisting of four phases, and the closing comments. For each element, the roles of the moderator and observer were outlined as well. In the observation schedule, the number and the characteristics of participants and the general atmosphere during the NG was registered. Next, for each phase of the NG the duration, questions asked by the participants, difficulties experienced by the participants, nonverbal participant interactions and interactions between the researchers and the participants were written down.
iIn total, the 14 NGT meetings resulted in 311 dif-ferent ideas. After discussing and erasing identical ideas, 290 ideas were retained. On average, a group generated 22 ideas. Participants wrote down an average of just under four ideas. To limit the researcher bias, the moderator and the observer independently coded the items. The initial inter-rater-agreement was 85% which was good (>80.0%) compared to other qualitative research. For the classification of the remaining items an agreement was reached between both coders.
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