Fire Starter Festival in Dundee

Guest post by Open Change Intern Barbara Mertlova. Originally posted at

The Scotland-wide Fire Starter Festival kicked off on Monday 29 January with a speech made by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow. For us in Dundee, however, we Spark(ed) It Up with a free breakfast, as @Mike Press delivered two consecutive events, co-hosted by The Circle Dundee. Following a short introduction on The Festival itself, which you can read more about in this post, the Open Change director facilitated a sparkling conversation between four guest speakers: the youngest ever Dundee Council Leader John Alexander, Development Worker Kirsty Slater from WEvolution, Kirsty Thomson, who is the Founder and current Chief Executive Officer of The Circle Dundee, and specialist Ninewells surgeon Rod Mountain, who also happens to be one of the V&A Dundee Design Champions

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The first question asked, allowed the guests to explain the motives and drives behind their actions, which led to finding many themes in common, despite all speakers coming from varying disciplines or backgrounds, showing the basis of multi-disciplinary collaboration. Apart from wanting to deliver a positive change, being inspired by the efforts all around the world, or feeling a strong sense of responsibility for the local community, all responses passionately mentioned one key motivation; Frustration.

Although it came from different places for each individual; for example WEvolution’s Kirsty Slater believed every single person “can be a valuable part to the society” and felt “tired of being told otherwise”, the Councillor John Alexander spoke about his parents as one of the major impulses for his involvement in politics and said he did not want to just sit back and complain”, while the NHS’s Rod Mountain emphasised the inspiration he found in Scandinavian countries. Mike summarised the feeling that resonated with most of us: Frustration and anger are healthy – and often required feelings in the process of making change happen. However, being angry alone does not do anything.” Using that feeling as an engine to power your actions, that is what counts.

And to evidence that the four people, sharing their story with an engaged audience of approximately 25, have put their frustration into great use already, they each mentioned some of their key achievements, along with what was on the agenda next. This is just to highlight a few:

Kirsty Thomson, who has raised £12million for local social enterprises, turned The Circle into a resource for the community, and is one of the main reasons why we could be there, sparking new projects similar to hers, such that would lead to making work better. Rodney Mountain sees Service Design as a mindset change, which allows him to look at ways in which we can work together. In his particular case, he talks about NHS not being just a public sector, emphasising the need to collaborate with their private and the third sectors. Kirsty Slater, as someone who works in a non-profitable sector, tries to create groups not reliant on external funding. This is an idea coming from India, where it naturally arises from the necessity to be self-providing. Finally, John Alexander explains why he had kept a weekend customer-service job, even after having been elected. A twoway communication is really important to me and I try to be as accessible to the community as possible.”

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After this inspiring hour, the room took a short break as a few more visitors arrived for what was on the programme next – a Rip and Mix Workshop.


Rip + Mix is an idea generation tool developed by Open Change, which anyone who wants to encourage creative thinking can use. If you are interested in learning more about it, all the details and “What you need’s” are available here. That morning, however, as many other times previously, Mike, acting on behalf of Open Change, provided a workshop which kicked off with a presentation, where Service Design in general was introduced, highlighting the importance of listening to citizens, clients and service users, and giving some evidence of the real impact innovative thinking has had. The existing problem of companies, authorities and service providers in general not being able to see the world through the user’s eyes is the reason why Open Change’s workshops are organised in such a way, that forces people to challenge themselves and to understand their customers’ perspectives.



That is when the participants were shown how the idea generator works and what was expected from them. Post-it notes and sharpies, yes, you guessed it! But even that has a purpose, as visualisation serves a powerful tool. Split into groups, every table got a “Pleasurable experience” card, which they then analysed over the course of 5 minutes. Afterwards, for the same amount of time, each group discussed the ‘pain-points’ in their existing lives and had to come to an agreement on which issue they can all sympathise best with, and subsequently analysed it in the same manner as the previous card. The last time-limit was 7 minutes – slightly longer, but still producing a fastpaced environment as that seems to evoke the most efficient innovative thinking, stimulating the real world – during which the participants “ripped and mixed” the two columns, aiming to create a better experience out of the presented problem. Once time was up, the room shared the outcomes and had a motivating discussion, hopefully having sparked up an idea for innovation or improvement in more than one of the attendees.

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Wrapping it up, collaboration and the importance of diversity and inclusion was highlighted one more time, as the benefits of them are infinite, and that was the first day of Open Change events as part of the Fire Starter Festival 2018, over.

If you would like to learn more about the Fire Starter Festival, you can have a look at the official website here, or alternatively, you may want to browse through the #fsf2018 on Twitter.

However, if you particularly regret having missed the igniting Breakfast, we’ve got good news for you! Next Tuesday 6 February, there will be other brilliant speakers, again directed by Open Change’s Mike Press, which you can read the details about and sign up for here. What’s more, whether you’re part of a business, or are simply interested in how planning in such areas works, the Breakfast Talk will be followed by an interactive workshop introducing you to the Business Model Canvas. Still not convinced? We are giving you a little taster of what you might expect there!


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