Kit Harbottle

Why did you decide to become a member of the ORS? 

Encouraged by tutors on the MSc in Operational Research at Reading, which I took in the mid 1970s as a way to connect my Oxford mathematics degree with real life decision making.  

How has ORS membership impacted on your work or career? 

After a spell programming Ministry of Defence mathematical models (punched cards in, reams of A3 print out), I got a more directly OR related job with the Metropolitan Police in a lively unit which included Sue (now Merchant) and police officers who kept us focused on the reality of issues modelled. That experience meant that, when my first child was born, I could negotiate part time terms for a systems analyst job close to home with Marconi. With the second child due, we escaped dependence on defence when my husband switched to teaching and we moved to Devon – where the idea of a mother seeking part time analytical work was novel.

However my ORS membership paid off when Plymouth Polytechnic needed sessional cover while an OR lecturer took a year’s secondment.  He did not come back, and I got the substantive post, learning from colleagues Jim Shalliker and Brian Wathey how to teach engineers linear programming and business students critical path analysis, and mastering multi-coloured handouts on the banda machine.

In 1990 I spotted an advert from the Audit Commission in the OR Society newsletter. Having added NHS to their local government remit they were recruiting non-accountants to do value for money studies, and saw OR knowledge as relevant. My work there for the next 20 years was more about evidence based judgement and questioning performance measures than it was about techniques on the academic syllabus, but it followed on well for me.  


Celebrating 75 years, what are your most memorable moments of being a member of the ORS? 

A last minute typing spree to submit my MSc project, which was on generating random variables on a computer. Attending a 1978 conference about information management – relevant to a police project – with my mother, head of information science at a pharmaceutical firm, while pregnant with my daughter, now chief information officer at a major firm. (Our office had one shared microcomputer then.) At Plymouth, getting creative in inventing scenarios for exercises.  Also interviewing small businesses – making products from dresses to chocolates – about their resource allocation decisions in practice,  and trying to simulate queues for the Torpoint Ferry. With the Audit Commission, numerous examples of the OR wisdom of listening to those at the front line, from pathology technicians to youth workers.  


What do you value most from being a member of the ORS? 

The ORS was a helpful network to have in some of the charity trustee roles and pro bono work I undertook on retiring over 10 years ago. Although now well past understanding the tools currently used, its encouraging to see OR engaging with issues I care about, especially tackling climate change.  

What would you say to any other Operational Researcher who is thinking about becoming an ORS member? 

Whatever your specialist sector or discipline, it’s good to be part of a wider network which encourages sharing of ideas and mutual challenge.