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Fire Starter Festival and the future of innovation in Scotland’s public sector

At the end of January our innovation centre team facilitated a session at one of Scotland’s Fire Starter Festival events. Hosted jointly by The Improvement Service and Workforce Scotland, its aim was to explore how play, puzzles and escape rooms can inspire innovation and creativity at work.  In this blog, innovation centre manager Louise Quinn explains the takeaways from the event, and why exploring the benefits of innovation is such a focus for Scotland’s public sector.

How can escape rooms inspire creativity?

The Fire Starter Festival is a two week long series of events which aim to highlight collaborative learning, innovation and transformation, both of ourselves and the organisations we work for in the public sector.

This year, we ran a warm-up session at the ‘Escape’ event at Quaker Meeting House in Edinburgh, its aim to encourage attendees to think about the steps in problem solving and to apply these to a series of puzzles. After this, we were invited to join the teams to help create our own escape room. As some of us had recently tried to ‘escape a room’ we were all keen to witness how this activity could draw out the skills in people which we are looking to enhance and develop ourselves.

materials from the day with an A4 piece of paper reading 'ESCAPE!'

Our task was to create a series of puzzles which would form a story that another team would be able to follow to unlock a key, and ultimately escape the room.  To do this we were given a starter pack of tools such as pens, paper, string, scissors and tape. We then had the chance to ‘buy’ some additional tools such as newspapers, crosswords, maps, balloons and many others.

Building a room with such basic materials certainly required some creative thinking and it was inspiring to see how imaginatively people approached the problem, with all four teams building very different but equally impressive rooms. And if building the rooms wasn’t challenging enough, we then had to swap with another team and solve their creation.

Afterwards, we reflected on the roles that had emerged within teams and the range of emotions which had been experienced during the task. Curiosity, bewilderment and frustration were high on the list of many, coupled with exhilaration when they cracked the room and escaped.

an activity from the escape room

What can puzzles teach the public sector?

Whilst it’s easy to get caught up in the entertainment of the puzzles and games, it’s also important to understand what they teach us about creative problem solving and how relevant these are to Registers of Scotland and the wider public sector.

Through play and puzzles, organisations are improving their ability to address risk and enhance performance, by encouraging staff to seize opportunities to explore solutions and deliver changes in their own working environment.

Puzzles naturally prompt us to engage in trial and error, teaching the value of formulating theories, testing hypothesis and changing our perspectives when something doesn’t work out according to plan.  These learnings are crucial to any organisation keen to promote a culture of innovation and continuous improvement, whilst also supporting strong collaboration with colleagues.

Looking to the future of innovation

Aside from our own work designing services underpinned by user-centred principles – which you can read more about here – the Scottish Government are more widely supporting this spirit of cross-organisational innovation through the Scotland Can Do Initiative which aspires to make Scotland ‘a world leading entrepreneurial and innovative nation’. As we expand our network of innovation partners, we naturally strengthen our ability to contribute to this overarching vision for Scotland.


Learning from the experiences of other public sector departments and having access to research carried out by the newest and most innovative start-up companies opens up a gateway to the latest technologies and specialist skill sets which can help to support us in solving our own business challenges.

It’s safe to say that 2019 is shaping up to be a busy and interesting year, both for Registers of Scotland and for innovation in the wider public sector.

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