“Let’s do this online”: Adapting nominal group technique during COVID-19

The European Association for Palliative Care (EAPC) is a partner organisation of the international project RESPAAC – ‘Research for Palliative Care Clinicians’. Members of RESPACC, Dr Stephen Mason (University of Liverpool, UK) and Professor Sheila Payne (Lancaster University, UK), explain how the group has adapted research methods to engage with participants online.

Dr Stephen Mason and Prof Sheila Payne

The COVID-19 pandemic has required shifts and adjustments across all areas of society, including how we conduct research. Limits to social interaction, required to contain the virus, have also interrupted many research studies. As a result, researchers have had to think creatively and engage alternative approaches to collect study data. Across the range of options available, adapting research methods to ‘online’ formats have flourished. One example of this has come from the Erasmus+ funded RESPACC project, which seeks to establish the core competencies palliative care clinicians need to understand and engage with clinical research.

As a first phase of the RESPACC project, Nominal Group Technique (NGT)1 was to be used to elicit clinicians’ needs for research training, and rank priorities of core research competencies in palliative care. Without the opportunity for the international members of the RESPACC team to meet in person, data collection techniques were adapted to enable the three participating countries (Greece, Romania and Spain) to each host a virtual meeting and progress through the requisite steps of the NGT process. As well as generating evidence on research training needs, the RESPACC team were keen to look at the lessons learned from hosting NGT online, which has formed the basis of the paper “Undertaking Research Using Online Nominal Group Technique: Lessons from an International Study (RESPACC)’ published in November 2021 in Journal of Palliative Medicine 2  and available to download free of charge until 31 January 2022.

We learned much about adapting NGT for an online format, and the actions and challenges that need attention for it to be successful. For example, firewalls interfered with connectivity for participants in joining the online NGT meeting from an acute-care setting. Equally, some participants using a smartphone had problems accessing the ‘chat-function’ and responding accordingly when required. However, we also found that hosting NGT online may have a number of advantages over traditional face-to-face meetings, such as promoting wider geographical participation and inclusivity.

Our critical reflections on the process and outcomes from the NGT meetings led us to suggest eight key recommendations, that we hope will help circumvent some of the challenges we encountered. Examples of these include: developing preparatory guidance (both for NGT facilitators and participants); recommending suitable media to enable participation; and creating templates for the recording of group ideas.

The challenges of COVID-19 have necessitated a multitude of changes in research, some of which have promoted innovation that may lead to improved outcomes. Our experience suggests that hosting NGT meetings online may be one such simple innovation, though further examination on the differences between online and face-to-face meetings would be helpful to enable researchers to appropriately select a format which meets their needs.


  1. Junger S and Payne S. The crossover artist: consensus methods in health research. In Walshe C and Brearley S (eds) Handbook of Theory and Methods in Applied Health Research. Elgar; Cheltenham: 2020.
  2. Mason S, Ling J, Mosoiu D, Arantzamendi M, Tserkezoglou AJ, Predoiu O, et al. Undertaking Research Using Online Nominal Group Technique: Lessons from an International Study (RESPACC). Journal of Palliative Medicine. 2021.https://doi.org/10.1089/jpm.2021.0216


Download a free copy of the full-text article from ‘Journal of Palliative Medicine’ until 31 January 2022…

This post relates to the longer article referenced above, ‘Undertaking Research Using Online Nominal Group Technique: Lessons from an International Study (RESPACC)’, and is open access until 31 January 2022. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/jpm.2021.0216

EAPC members receive discount on subscriptions to ‘Journal of Palliative Medicine’

As an official journal of the EAPC, Journal of Palliative Medicine offers EAPC members a substantial discount on a personal online subscription, which includes unlimited access to the fully searchable archive of published articles.  More information here.

If you’re making an outstanding contribution to research and clinical practice in palliative care, why not apply for a 2022 EAPC Researcher Award?  Apply yourself, or nominate a colleague, for this prestigious award. More information: https://eapccongress.eu/2022/eapc-researcher-awards/

This entry was posted in EAPC COLLABORATIVE PROJECTS, EAPC-LINKED JOURNALS, Journal of Palliative Medicine, RESEARCH, RESPACC and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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