|Designing Human Settlements Training in African Countries - Volume 2: Trainer's Tool Kit (HABITAT, 1994, 182 p.)|
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Every partridge knows its way of scratching.
- Kikuyu Proverb
NGT was developed by Andre L. Delbecq and Andrew H. Van de Ven in 1968. Since that time, NGT has gained extensive recognition throughout the world and has been widely applied in health, social-service, education, industrial and governmental organizations.
NGT meetings normally consist of from one to five groups of from five to nine people each seated around tables open on one end. The open end is used for a flip chart pad on an easel to be used by the leader for the collection and public display of ideas furnished by participants of the group. The leader has markers for writing ideas on the chart pad and masking tape for taping sheets containing ideas on the wall of the room.
Participants of each group are provided with pencils and one dozen small writing cards each.
The leader opens the meeting with a statement about the purpose of the meeting, clarification of the importance of each members contributions and a clear indication of how the meetings output will be used.
Although a meeting might involve several groups at separate tables, for purposes of illustration, we shall explain the process as if there was one table consisting of between five and nine participants. The process consists of six steps.
Step 1: Silent generation of ideas in writing
The leader reads the nominal question to participants out loud while writing it in plain sight at the top of the pad. Care must be taken by the leader to choose clear and unambiguous wording for the question so as to generate the most specific responses possible. An appropriate question, How can we make better use of our time at meetings, for example, should produce many useful ideas. This question is far superior to the more general question: How can our meetings be more productive. The leader then asks participants to write down as many ideas as they can think of in answer to the question. Participants are cautioned by the leader to work silently and independently.
Step 2: Round-robin recording of ideas
Starting at one end of the table, the leader asks a participant to read one of his/her answers out loud. The answer is recorded by the leader on the pad. The next participant is asked for one of his or her answers. This process is continued until every answer of every participant has been recorded. As sheets on the pad are filled the leader tears them off and tapes them to the wall. Participants are encouraged by the leader to pass if they have nothing further to offer with the understanding that they may re-enter later with any new ideas that may occur to them. Discussion of ideas and side conversations at the table are strongly discouraged by the leader.
Step 3: Discussion for clarification
The leader explains that the purpose of this step is to ensure that everyone understands what is meant by each idea on the pad. The ideas are taken one at a time as written. Discussion of an item is to focus on understanding, not agreement or disagreement. Participants are told that everyone is responsible for clarifying an idea and not just the person who offered it.
Step 4: Preliminary vote on ideas of importance
The leader asks participants to select five ideas from the list of ideas displayed on the sheets taped to the wall and to write each item down on a separate card. The leader collects the cards and shuffles them to retain anonymity. The leader then tallies the vote and records the results on the flip chart in front of the group.
Step 5: Discussion of the preliminary vote
Participants are told by the leader to examine the voting pattern on the chart and to comment on anything about the pattern that seems unusual, surprising or inconsistent. The leader stresses that the discussion may persuade some participants to change their votes but that no one is being pressured to do so.
Step 6: Final vote
The final vote is simply a repeat of Step 4. It combines individual judgements into a group decision. When it is over, the leader thanks participants for their efforts, repeats what will be done with the meeting output and closes the meeting.
PROS AND CONS OF NGT
Unlike brainstorming, in which participants interact with one another from the start, NGT is designed to let people work in the presence of one another in a structured manner but to write down their ideas independently rather than talk about them. Because of this characteristic, NGT groups have been found to outperform interactive groups consistently in the quality of ideas produced. This seems to be because participants of NGT groups are less subject to being inhibited by one another and are less prone to make premature judgements.
NGT does have some drawbacks. Considerable preparation for NGT meetings is necessary. For this reason, it is less useful as a spontaneous training technique than brainstorming. These drawbacks can be alleviated, however, by leaving out some of the steps described above thereby simplifying the process and saving time.
Structured techniques for group problem solving like brainstorming and NGT are valuable additions to the trainers repertoire of learning activities. They are particularly useful as a source of creative ideas and to demonstrate the tremendous potential of a group to analyse and remedy its own problems. NGT is more formal and time-consuming than brainstorming but is sometimes preferred by people in training who are uncomfortable with the more spontaneous, interactive methods.