Why I joined - and why you should too

Written in 2013, this article by Ruth Kaufman OBE FORS explores what motivations and benefits led her to join The OR Society, and why you should consider membership as well:

The Benefits of Membership – a virtuous circle

Ruth Kaufman, Inside OR February 2013

If you’re reading this, there is a very good chance that you are a member of the OR Society. No doubt you stop to ask yourself ‘why?’ from time to time – especially when renewal notices appear on your doormat. Why do I belong to the ORS? Maybe you even ask yourself: Why should anybody belong to the ORS?

As somebody who spent much of a long career as a non-member of the ORS, but who now chairs the Publicity, Membership and Website sub-committee with all the evangelism of the convert, I’ve been thinking long and hard about this.

The classic place to start when persuading somebody to do something is with answers to their question “What’s in it for me?” I will get on to membership benefits in a moment. But there is another angle to this. The OR Society is a charity. Like all charities, it must demonstrate that its aims – the advancement of knowledge and interest in OR; and the advancement of education in OR – are for the public benefit.

Now, there are many charities, such as Mind, or the Fawcett Society, whose members join not because they get any direct personal benefit, but because they want to promote the public benefit pursued by that charity. It is true that OR promulgation may not arouse the same passions as fair treatment for women; and “Every A-Level maths student knows about OR” may not be a benefit that tugs at the heartstrings in the same way as “no-one has to face a mental health problem alone”. Nonetheless, many of us will recognise The OR Society’s aims as being worthwhile in helping shape the world we want to live in: a world where decisions are well-made, where systems are well-designed, where organisations are well-run.

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Taking a specific example: the ORS’s academic publications do not bring much by way of direct benefit to members. The contents are often too abstruse for practitioners; and academics do not need to be members either to get free access or to publish. But they bring enormous public benefit by ensuring that good OR work will be disseminated, that up-and-coming OR researchers will have a forum, that potential OR users will have a repository to which they can turn, and that the ORS has a credible, authoritative voice amongst fellow learned societies. And that is before considering the considerable income that its publications (currently) bring to the ORS to enable it to pursue its wider activities.

Looking more broadly, the ORS’s representation on various UK and global bodies give OR a real standing in national and international debates around the mathematical, system and decision sciences. Its conferences, training, networking activities and on-line resources provide support, and inspire development and cross-fertilisation amongst practitioners, students, teachers, researchers, and even users, enabling the profession to flourish. Its initiatives including OR in Schools, analytics, research projects and OR Pro Bono all help promulgate OR amongst new generations and new sectors. These are all public benefits, and we don’t need to directly benefit from them personally to feel that they are worth supporting. 

However – there is no denying that gaining personal benefit from something does wonders for one’s willingness to keep paying the subs. And there’s a whole raft of personal benefits to be derived from ORS membership, though exactly what that is will be different for each of us.

For somebody like me – an independent consultant, semi-retired – membership keeps me up-to-date with new ideas, maintains links with interesting people, adds to my personal credibility with potential clients, and gives me access to conferences at discounted rates, pro bono OR and a host of other learning and networking opportunities.

By contrast, for an OR person currently doing ‘not-OR’, there is the opportunity to keep in touch with a world that you may wish to tap into for inspiration, for consultancy or for future work. For an academic, in addition, there is the chance to work with practitioners, and the potential to develop research partnerships.

"they bring enormous public benefit by ensuring that good OR work will be disseminated, that up-and-coming OR researchers will have a forum, that potential OR users will have a repository to which they can turn, and that The OR Society has a credible, authoritative voice amongst fellow learned societies."

For those at the other end of the career ladder, students or new graduates, there may be more value in access to mentoring through the CandORS scheme; in finding out what is going on within the profession-as-practised rather than the profession-as-taught; in making connections which might help find a new role.

For an isolated practitioner or academic, there is the opportunity to keep in touch and learn from people who share your professional outlook, the access to on-line resources, the community of special interest groups. For people in large groups, there is the opportunity to get external perspectives, to attend different training courses,  to differentiate yourself and your CV through accreditation or through taking on a position in the ORS.

There is a lot here. But for both types of benefit, personal and public, the ORS is ambitious to do more.  And this brings me to the virtuous circle of the title. To do more we need more members. More members will result in more, stronger, broader networks; more, and more varied, promotion of the profession across a wider audience; more case studies to teach and to inspire: all resulting in more personal benefit and more public benefit. And of course, the more we can generate benefit, the more likely it is that people will think it worth paying the subscription (NOTE: unchanged in 2013). A positive feedback loop to be proud of!

This is one reason why we shall be embarking upon a membership drive in 2013. In the meantime, what do you think? Have I missed anything? Can we do more to foster links between members, and to realise the benefits I have been extolling? What are the membership benefits that you value the most? Are there any additional benefits you would like to see the ORS provide? And is there anything more that we can collectively do to help advance knowledge and understanding of OR in pursuit of a better world?