[MEET METROQUEST] Mike Walsh, Chief-Executive-Officer

Mike Walsh, MetroQuest

Welcome to the first of our new blog series entitled “Meet MetroQuest!”

In this series, we’ll introduce the exceptional people who make up the MetroQuest team. We’re passionate about online public engagement, leading edge government technology, and delivering the best solutions to ensure citizens are involved in the planning of great cities. This blog series is a chance for us to celebrate our passionate people and their dedication.   

In this first interview, we introduce you to Mike Walsh, our fearless CEO. 

Mike, can you give us the 10,000-foot view of your role at MetroQuest? 

It’s in my nature to be involved with all aspects of MetroQuest – from finance and accounting to customer support and success. With the latter, I tend to help with strategy and advise the team on bigger picture scenarios. Overall, I help plug gaps where they need to be plugged – this is sometimes why I’m called the Chief-of-Everything-Else Officer!  

Of course, that continues to change as the company evolves. Last year we doubled our headcount, so it’s the case that things I used to be involved are now the responsibility of others. It’s a great feeling to delegate important work to talented people you can trust to make it happen. 

What led you to create MetroQuest? 

Initially, there were three of us involved in developing a fusion of sustainability and computing that could be used to engage people in a conversation about sustainability for a town, city, or region.  

It’s my view that we need to try and not just think about a place today, but envisage how that place will look like in 5, 10, or even 25 years. This visualization needs to happen because urban areas are changing and growing, and getting bigger and busier. With MetroQuest, we help clients visualize growth and expansion, with a focus on sustainability. Great cities don’t happen by accident. We need effective public participation and proactive plans for better transportation, move livable cities, and happier communities.  

What drives you to be such a bold advocate for sustainable cities? 

I’ve always been interested in the intersection of sustainability, business, and computers.  

MetroQuest was born out of the Sustainable Development Research Institute at UBC, and the company really found its feet when I was a grad student studying sustainability.  

Sustainability to me is another word for strategy. Most businesses have a strategy to really try to optimize or focus on financial performance, but don’t necessarily pay as much attention to the human or ecological implications. Sustainability is a broader way of talking about strategy and thinking a little more holistically about the issues at hand.  

Sustainable cities, or Smart Cities, have become a very hot topic of late. As the global population continues to grow and many more people are choosing to live in cities, getting cities to be desirable places with a small energy and waste footprint will be critical. Smart Cities is really just the intersection of sustainability and urban places. 

How do you see the future of public engagement evolving?  

There’s always going to be a role for in-person interaction and there will always be town hall meetings. However, if you want to engage lots of people – people who are supportive of a project or issue – you aren’t going to see many of them at a town hall meeting. This means that if you want them to participate, you need to give them some other mechanism to do so.  

That’s why there’s a shift to digital interaction online and it’s going to continue to go that way. At MetroQuest, we continue to see great examples of the traditionally silent majority now playing a key role in shaping urban and transportation plans by providing their informed input online. I think this will continue to be the case, creating increasing demand for ways to enable citizens to meaningfully participate online. 

Would you say that MetroQuest is a disruptor of the industry? 

We are pioneers in the space and could certainly be considered disruptors. We engineered digital interaction when there was no Internet. We used to go and shine things on the wall, using a laptop and a projector and gather input using polling keypads!  

The advent of the Internet enabled us to access a lot more people for a lot less money per participant. The latest U.S. Census Bureau data tells us that nearly 80% of US households have a broadband Internet subscription with a desktop or laptop and a handheld computer (smartphone or tablet). It’s never been easier to empower government agencies to engage citizens online!  

At MetroQuest, we continue to disrupt. With the proliferation of the Internet came many players in the “online survey” space. But, no one likes traditional surveys, even online. The best public engagement can only be born from compassion for the human experience. Our team has a relentless focus on enabling highly visual and interactive online engagement to support better city and transportation planning. Multiple choice questions don’t cut it. Because we gamify surveys and weave education about planning into the online experience, we bridge the gap between complex planning initiatives and quantifying the desires of citizens. This is why I like to call MetroQuest the “unsurvey. ” 

What do you do outside of work? 

My wife and I like to travel and ski. We’re out of the city many weekends, which definitely helps to disconnect your brain from the work world and reconnect with the outdoors.  

What guidance do you give government agencies looking to garner meaningful public input? 

First, make sure that you have a clear objective. We always ask clients: “how would you define success?”  Starting with the end in mind empowers agencies to achieve, and often surpass, their public engagement goals.  

To that end, we also like to ask:

  • “what are you trying to accomplish?”
  • “what would success look like?”
  • “what information are you trying to collect”
  • “what are you going to do with that information?”  

Second, we advise agencies to not just ask a question for the sake of asking a question. We encourage clients to ask questions that actually have a useful purpose further down the road. For example, we helped a client who wanted to gather information about demographics, in particular income. We advised them not to, because they were unclear as to what they were going to do with that information.  

It’s a fact that the more questions you ask, the less answers you get. A five-minute survey is 500% more likely to be completed than a 15-minute survey. Asking extraneous questions is very counterproductive. The game is about getting what you want in the very minimum number of questions. 

What advice do you have for people thinking about working at MetroQuest? 

Everybody does a bit of everything here. We’re less structured than a larger organization and therefore able to better welcome creativity, courage, and play. Our team goes above and beyond every day, because we grow when we think and act bigger. We’re highly inclusive – everyone is equal at MetroQuest. And we’re highly collaborative within teams and across departments, because everyone has good ideas. We achieve greatness together, so we celebrate employee and customer milestones. We’re passionate about quality and results and generous with our encouragement.

If that sounds interesting, then MetroQuest could be a good place for you. 

Do you have any closing thoughts? 

It’s been an interesting journey over the past 20 years. We’re excited to see where we get to go over the next 20.

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