Q&A with our Analysts
#WednesdayswithMDBInsight – Today we’re sharing thoughts and ideas from one of our Research Analyst, Simon Webb. The work of our valued analyst team members isn’t often highlighted but their contributions go a long way in ensuring our clients’ project successes.
When did you join the MDB Insight team? And what surprised you the most about your first month with the firm?
SIMON: I started in May of this year (2019). What surprised me the most was the breadth of work done on a day to day basis. I’d go from interviewing industry stakeholders to running economic analysis, to brainstorming definitions of clean tech all in one day.
What’s the coolest task you’ve worked on in the last few months as a Research Analyst?
SIMON: As a part of a workforce development strategy we were working on for the Cariboo Region in British Columbia, I used Statistics Canada data to analyse the economic base of the region while conducting a literature/web study of the environmental issues faced in the area. It’s interesting the aspects that quantitative and qualitative research each contribute to our understanding of an issue. Looking at the numbers alone, you could paint one picture of reality in your head but without the background information to contextualise it, you could easily be misled. Similarly, looking at the background alone you might not have the proper large-scale evidence to draw meaningful inferences. It’s really the intersection of these two that make informed recommendations possible.
What have you read recently that you would recommend?
SIMON: I recently read “Dataclysm” by Christian Rudder (the founder of OK Cupid). It’s a collection of interesting stories and ways he has used social media and web data to give glimpses into people’s true selves. It’s very entertaining the whole way through and really makes you think about all of the great and scary things that the massive amounts of modern data recorded every day can be used for.
If you could work (do a project) in any community in Canada which one would it be and why?
SIMON: This is tricky to answer, because there are so many interesting communities with their own unique problems and opportunities. One place I find very interesting from an economic development perspective is Hamilton, ON. After an economic downturn from steel mill downsizing, they managed to turn the economy around, mostly through growth and development of the creative industry. Now art, music, entrepreneurism, and food/hospitality are so well recognized there, they are managing to draw young people out of Toronto. It’s an interesting example of grassroots economic growth, in contrast to the usual strategy where communities would aim to attract a specific industry to the area to create jobs. Its proximity to Toronto also makes it very interesting from a worker attraction/retention point of view.
Are there any particular trends you’re watching or developments in the field that you’re following closely?
SIMON: There are many, but I’m particularly interested in the impacts that machine learning/artificial intelligence and better connectivity will have on the economy. On the machine learning/artificial intelligence side, there is a lot of fear that certain jobs will be lost, and this is probably true to a certain extent. Machine learning and AI are particularly good at things that require repetition and are getting better at making decisions along the way (the tasks don’t have to be as simple anymore as one would think, i.e. award-winning chess-playing robots). Something they are not (and probably won’t ever be) good at is creativity, so this human trait will become increasingly important for employees in the future. You also need people to program the algorithms, so coding will become an increasingly necessary skill across all occupations. Better connectivity and software are other important trends, as these will give individuals the ability to work seamlessly from wherever they want. I wouldn’t be surprised if we began to see a reversal of the urbanization trend in the coming century, as people choose to live in more affordable places with (arguably) better quality of life while they do their work. Better/faster transportation will contribute to this as well.
What do you think are the key issues facing economic development as a profession over the next few years?
SIMON: With the increasing rate of technology change, economic developers have an important role to play to ensure that communities are not only prepared for this change but also incorporate it into their strategic planning as a mechanism for growth. Being forward-looking has always been an important role of economic development but staying current on technological advances and the directions they are heading is now a crucial aspect of this. Strategic plans will need to expect changes in businesses’ communication, transportation, employee proximity, capital vs. labour ratios, etc. Economic developers will also have more (and hopefully better) information to base decisions on. My fear is that the profession would be slow to incorporate the new theories, information sources, and business models stemming from the rapid technological change, when it really should a be leader in helping communities incorporate and adapt to upcoming technologies.
Describe what the role of a Research Analyst looks like 10 years from now – what’s different?
SIMON: As software and computing power improves for both the research analyst and all of the businesses and individuals in a community, there’s going to be a lot more information created and available. RAs will have to be comfortable with more technologies, able to drill down to specific problems from huge datasets, and be (even more) creative in their analyses and solution creation. They’ll be in a great position to make solutions that are even more firmly grounded in evidence. Oh, and they’ll also be taking really sleek-looking, sustainably-fuelled flying/self-driving cars to work, and using augmented-reality glasses instead of computers… maybe give those 20 years!
To learn more about Simon and the other members of our team, go to https://mdbinsight.com/team-bios/
Our Wednesdays with MDB Insight blog posts (#WednesdayswithMDBInsight) feature the thinkers and doers on our team sharing ideas and talking about what’s important to us as professionals. We have very diverse backgrounds and a range of interests to share with you.