Think Tank Processes

Group decision making is a participatory process where multiple individuals are brought together to collectively analyze problems, evaluate alternatives, and select one or more solutions from all alternatives. Group decision making is not the only form of collective decision making, as teams, teamwork, and self-managed teams can also be used. However, group decision making is very flexible and versatile in how it is implemented. The individuals involved in decision making can be demographically similar or diverse, the process to achieve a decision may be structured or unstructured, and the group may be either formal or informal. Two common group decision making methods are brainstorming and nominal group technique (NGT).

Brainstorming is a rather informal process that involves gathering a relatively small group of individuals and generating solutions or ideas in the form of free association (Gallagher, 2013). Rather than focusing on the evaluation of ideas, the goal is to simply generate solutions or ideas in what is referred to as the generation of alternatives stage. Once all group members have exhausted solutions during this stage, the group will enter the alternative evaluation stage and evaluate each brainstorming solution proposed during the generation of alternatives stage. One advantage of brainstorming is that is allows for rapid generation of a substantial amount of alternative solutions (Goldenberg & Wiley, 2011). However, common problems with brainstorming include group members judging ideas during the generation of alternatives stage, instead of the alternative evaluation stage, and hesitation of some group members to participate due to fear or judgment or ridicule of their ideas by other group members (Anwar & Razali, 2014).

Nominal group technique is a method similar to brainstorming. In the process, group members come up with a comprehensive list of alternative solutions to a given problem, and then present them to the group for consideration. As Lunenburg (2011) mentions, the key difference, however, is that group members generate and record their ideas in private. Rather than relying on unstructured free association, nominal group theory uses a structured process in which each member presents their alternatives to the group one at a time, with verbal exchange limited only to clarification. Once all group members have presented their alternative solutions, the group then enters an evaluation of alternatives stage, similar to that of brainstorming. A key benefit of NGT is that research has shown its more private and structured nature to be more effective at generating a greater number of higher quality alternatives (Harvey & Holmes, 2012).

When conducting your next meeting to plan user security, consider the key differences between these two group decision making methods. Which one will work best for your organization or environment? If you are including users in the discussion, nominal group technique might be an excellent technique to ensure their voices are heard and not quashed by strong voices of practitioners. Or, you may even consider another group decision making technique, such as the Delphi method, which relies heavily on separate expert input and decision making.


Anwar, F., & Razali, R. (2014, August). Requirements Elicitation Techniques Selection Survey. In SoMeT (pp. 280-294).

Gallagher, S. (2013). Brainstorming: Views and interviews on the mind. Andrews UK Limited.

Goldenberg, O., & Wiley, J. (2011). Quality, conformity, and conflict: Questioning the assumptions of Osborn’s brainstorming technique. The Journal of Problem Solving, 3(2), 5.

Harvey, N., & Holmes, C. A. (2012). Nominal group technique: an effective method for obtaining group consensus. International journal of nursing practice, 18(2), 188-194.

Lunenburg, F. C. (2011). Decision making in organizations. International journal of management, business, and administration, 15(1), 1-9.


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