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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. Her latest book is Hiding in Plain Sight: Exploring Scotland's ill health. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 04/03/2007

I’ve been thinking a lot about Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point recently. First because I’ve now got a cd of him reading from the book which I’ve been listening to in my car and this is refreshing my memory about his ideas. And secondly, because I went last weekend on a Dundee Learning Journey. This might seem irrelevant but it is not.

In December 2004 I organised an event called Scotland’s Tipping Point and Gladwell was the keynote speaker. It was hugely successful. Over 300 folk attended and I had to turn lots of people away. Many said it was the best event they had ever attended. In the afternoon I put people together in geographical groups. This allowed folk from the same area, who shared the same ideas and aspirations to meet one another. The Edinburgh and Glasgow groups were too large and some of the other areas were too small. But the Dundee group was just right and they really gelled. They decided that they would organise a big event in Dundee and they did this a few months later. It was called Go Dundee. They went on to organise some other events – including a couple for young people.

The idea behind Go Dundee was quite simple. It was about turning round negativity and starting to feel more positive about Dundee and its numerous, though often unrecognised and uncelebrated, advantages. What the Tipping Point conference, and the resultant events staged in Dundee, did connect up people who shared similar ideas. As a result lots of new relationships and networks have been formed.

The organisers behind Go Dundee are open about the fact that they have run out of steam a bit in the last year. Everyone is so busy and lots of the kind of things they want to pursue are now happening anyway. However, the group is not defunct and last weekend staged a Dundee Learning Journey. Given my role in the Tipping Poing event I was asked to accompany them.

The first port of call was the University of Abertay’s digital media department. Abertay, under the influence of its inspiring principal Bernard King, is trying to radically alter the conventional approaches to learning by changing the physical lay-out of buildings. The new learning environment is called ‘white space’. In place of traditional long corridors with labs, formal lecture theatres and seminar rooms and staff closeted away in small offices. there is an attractive open-plan environment. This lay-out is designed to stimulate connectivity between students and staff, encourage creativity and break-down barriers between subjects and departments. It certainly feels very different from a usual university environment and according to Abertay staff, is beginning to change the learning environment.

Once we’d seen round here we all went off in an old-fashioned double-decker bus to visit Dundee’s new Ardler village. From the 1960s to 1998 it was a housing estate dominated by tower blocks and four-storey flats. For much of that time it was a concrete jungle with crumbling buildings and few social amenities. Now there is a village lay-out with green space and quality houses based around a central social area. Much of what has been achieved in Ardler – and it is immense – has been as a result of local people working in partnership with private and public agencies to create a new environment and a revitalised community. The locals taking us round consistently said that well-being had improved considerably as a result of the changes.

From there we went to an occupational therapy centre for people with mental health problems. Again this was an attractive new building designed for training purposes. Located in the centre of Dundee it was a far cry from the dark, brooding asylum situated out of town where people with mental health problems would once have attended for treatment.

Our final destination was Dundee Rep – one of the UK’s leading theatres for outreach work. Again I was taken with the atmosphere in the building – much less stuffy, and much more welcoming, than many theatres or cultural venues.

Throughout the journey to these projects and buildings I was struck by how much they echoed one of Gladwell’s three tipping point laws – what he calls ‘the power of context’ – the idea that human behavior is strongly influenced by the external environment.

I also observed, as I often do, how much good work is happening in Scotland. But we need to get this out to a wider audience and take it beyond specific, innovative projects, and out into the mainstream.

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