Research methods for formal consensus development

Nurse Res. 2015 Jan;22(3):35-40. doi: 10.7748/nr.22.3.35.e1297.


Aim: This paper reviews three research methods for developing consensus.

Background: Consensus statements and guidelines are increasingly used to clarify and standardise practice, and inform health policy, when relevant and rigorous evidence is lacking. Clinicians need to evaluate the quality of practice guidelines to determine whether to incorporate them into clinical practice or reject them. Formal methods of developing consensus provide a scientific method that uses expert panel members to evaluate current evidence and expert opinions to produce consensus statements for clinical problems.

Data sources: Online search for relevant literature was conducted in Medline and CINAHL.

Review methods: A literature review of consensus, consensus development and research methods papers published in English in peer-reviewed journals.

Discussion: The three methods of developing consensus discussed are the Delphi technique, nominal group technique and the consensus development conference. The techniques and their respective advantages are described, and examples from the literature are provided. The three methods are compared and a flowchart to assist researchers selecting an appropriate method is included. Online resources with information on the development and evaluation of clinical guidelines are reviewed.

Conclusion: This paper will help researchers to select an appropriate research method for developing consensus statements and guidelines.

Implications for research/practice: When developing consensus guidelines for clinical practice, researchers should use a formal research method to ensure rigour and credibility.

Keywords: Delphi; Research design; consensus; consensus development conference; nominal group technique; research methods.

MeSH terms

  • Consensus*
  • Delphi Technique
  • Group Processes
  • Research*