Improving publications, with a scrum

What is a Scrum?

A scrum involves a team of around 6 GSS colleagues coming together to review a publication put forward by a producer.

The Good Practice Team have been running Peer Review sessions for some time now, drawing on experience and expertise from within and outside the GSS to comment on our publications. These constructive comments were well received by the producers, but we found that the subsequent change was sometimes not as rapid or marked as we might hope.

To address this we came up with the idea of a scrum where colleagues would not only meet to review a publication – but also provide suggestions for how the publication could be changed and finish off by mocking up a new front page. This then would provide a launch pad for implementing change.

The scrum approach is to discuss the report in detail using a fairly loose agenda, looking at aspects such as what could this publication be used for, first impressions, titles, key messages, context, interpretation and language.
A thorough write up of the session is completed by the scrum facilitator, using the above headings to structure feedback clearly for the producer before sending it to them. The producer is invited to discuss the feedback should they have any questions.

Why do it?

It is relatively easy to set up; it encourages collaborative working across the GSS and can lead to real improvements in the presentation and impact of your statistics.

A publication scrum offers a fresh perspective on your publication as participants are usually from outside of the producing department. They are a great opportunity to receive feedback from other statisticians, make improvements to your statistics release and work collaboratively with Other Government Departments and learn from the best practice of others who may have gone through a similar process.

Here are some recent testimonies from colleagues in GSS departments:

“The scrum was really helpful. We knew that the Armed forces continuous attitude survey (AFCAS) report needed a refresh and wasn’t in the best format so having some external feedback was really useful”Nancy Singh, Armed forces continuous attitude survey, MOD

“The scrum provided a number of very practical suggestions on how we could improve our publication’s content and appeal. The majority of the feedback in terms of formatting, presentation, narrative structure etc has been implemented in the latest version” Josh Wallace, FOI Statistics, Cabinet Office

The scrum process also gives those taking part a great opportunity to spend some time thinking about what works in statistical publications, and how to provide constructive criticism. This they can apply in their own publications and helping others with theirs.

How does it work?

  • Get in touch and send us a copy of your statistical release
  • We will put together a scrum team and arrange a time and place for them to meet
  • The scrum team reviews your publication, providing some suggestions on how the statistical release can be improved
  • Based on the recommendations from the scrum team, we will provide you with a final report and follows up with you to discuss and help implement if necessary
  • You decide whether to implement the suggestions

Get involved!

The Good Practice Team (GPT) has an ongoing programme of scrum events, and the latest upcoming sessions are listed below.

We’re always on the look out for:·

  • Your suggestions of GSS publications that would benefit from a scrum review.
  • Enthusiastic persons who would be willing to give up their time to participate, or even facilitate a scrum event.
  • New locations to hold scrum events. We are happy to hold events in locations across the country as long as there is a suitable room available, and GSS colleagues available to participate. We have facilitated events in London, Bristol Leeds in recent times so we are happy to travel to accommodate colleagues in different areas


Date Time Location
Thursday 1 February 2018 11am-3pm ONS, 1 Drummond Gate, London
Wednesday 14 March 2018 11am-3pm ONS, Government Buildings, Cardiff Road, Newport
Tuesday 20 March 2018 11am-3pm ONS, 1 Drummond Gate, London
Wednesday 18 April 2018 11am-3pm ONS, 1 Drummond Gate, London


To register your interest email the Good Practice Team today!


Case Study

Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) ‘Summary Hospital-level Mortality Indicator (SHMI) – Deaths associated with hospitalisation’ report

One of the first publications to get the scrum treatment in April 2015 was the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) ‘Summary Hospital-level Mortality Indicator (SHMI) – Deaths associated with hospitalisation’ report. From the extensive feedback, the key messages from the scrum that the production team picked up on were:

  • The title could be clearer
  • A user needs to get quite far into the report to find out what it’s about
  • What the data can and can’t be used for should be transparent

SHMI one pageThe production team used the mock up front page from the scrum to inspire a one-page summary ‘Deaths following time in hospital’ that was published at the end of July 2015 alongside the standard quarterly report. This is a departure from the standard HSCIC publication template and the producers were keen to get as much feedback as possible about whether this format is useful. The new summary is available at:

The responsible statistician, Chris Dew, welcomed the feedback from the scrum: “Getting user feedback about publications can be quite difficult. The extensive comments from the scrum really helped us think about what the key information in the report is and how to quickly get this across to users. Hospital mortality is a really interesting topic and the ideas from the scrum will open this up to a wider audience. We also feel we can apply similar thinking to our other publications.”

It’s encouraging that the scrum helped HSCIC to put out a new product so quickly and we look forward to seeing their users’ reaction to this. We think this modified approach has given new energy to the review process and will lead to more rapid and wider change.

We have more scrum events in the future (see timetable above), so let us know if you would like to be part of the pack, or would like your publication to be the ball!