2018 August Inside OR

This month, you can relive The OR Society’s Big Data and Analytics Conference, the Analytics Summit 2018; we explore the life and career of Anthony Lines; we unpack a DWP case study on approaches to learning needs; and give you the latest news on the 2019 Beale Lecture.

Inside this issue


A Closer Look at The OR Society’s Events Committee


When did you last go to one of The OR Society’s events? Was it a regional society (RS) meeting organised in your local area? A special interest group (SIG) meeting addressing your particular specialism? One of our free public lectures, like the Blackett, hearing from a prominent speaker from a relevant field? One of the national conferences contributing to the dissemination of learning, and updating yourself on everything that is going on? Were you glad you went, or did you think it was a waste of time? Or have you never been to an event from The OR Society – in which case, what would it take to bring you along? These are the sort of questions addressed by The OR Society’s Events Committee (EC). I love a good event, and hate a bad one, so I’m pleased to be spending my final year on The OR Society Board as Interim EC Chair, taking over from Frances O’Brien who did a sterling job up to December 2017.

The EC’s aim is ‘to develop, and oversee delivery of, a programme of events and training that takes every opportunity to help deliver The OR Society’s charitable objects and strategic goals.’ To meet our brief, the committee keeps a watchful eye on programme delivery, to make sure that all is going smoothly and help sort things out when it isn’t. And it supports the development and implementation of new ideas to keep the programme refreshed and relevant.

Readers of Inside OR should have a pretty good idea of the number and variety of events and training, so here I’m just going to talk about the challenges that the EC is addressing. I’ll start with the ‘watchful eye’ part of our role. The most important challenge is to maintain the quality of each occasion. A good conference/event is inspiring. It disseminates knowledge, provides the soil for collaborations to flourish, and sparks new ideas to be taken back to the day job. A bad one is not only a waste of time and money in itself, but blights future events by damaging expectations. Our post-event/training feedback from participants is generally enthusiastic, but there is almost always something that could have gone better, and we do try to learn from each event. Every conference or event programme is put together by volunteers, and one of our forthcoming tasks is to review the guidance they receive.

Ideally, high quality events should attract growing numbers of participants. But this doesn’t always follow. Where numbers drop, we can often see after the event where the problem was; the trick, of course, is to understand that and tackle it before the event. We are working on this. We are also putting more work into marketing events; and we have commissioned an MSc student project to examine the question. 

Of course, many people can’t travel far to events, or can’t afford to get involved in anything beyond their immediate field, which is why the free meetings run by RSs and SIGs are absolutely crucial to the vigour of operational research (OR) and The OR Society. Our RSs and SIGs vary greatly between each other and over time, as people and circumstances change; some are very active, and some are not reaching their potential. In the last year or so, we have begun to improve the support given to RSs and SIGs. A meeting of SIG and RS Chairs in April helped exchange ideas and generate plans for further improvements.

We are also interested in diversity, of speakers and participants, and of the volunteers who organise conferences and sit on committees. We are collecting more information to try to
understand the position better. With such a full ‘business as usual’ programme, the ‘watchful eye’ role is time-consuming but it is essential to make time for the ‘new ideas’ role. This currently has two main components: new delivery mechanisms, and new content.

We have held occasional webinars in the past, and have recently initiated a series of regular webinars, organised by Ian Mitchell, wearing his Public Policy and Design SIG hat on top of his EC hat. These have been well-attended, and we hope to extend the use of webinars through our new webinar platform Zoom. Zoom is web-based which means users in locked down environments can access all future webinars from their internet browsers without the requirement for any downloads. We are also looking at the possibility of livestreaming events, with a second MSc student project addressing the options, costs, benefits and risks.

We’re considering a number of potential new events, of which the nearest to fruition at the time of writing are a one-day event celebrating the practical impact of academic research, an
event building on the recent Review of Computational Modelling, an event specifically for those responsible for organising student MSc projects, and joining in with the Institute of Maths
and its Applications on an event for people involved with knowledge exchange.

Also as part of the ‘new content’, the training programme, overseen by the Training Working Group chaired by EC member Martin Keys, is gradually expanding following a recent strategic review. 

Turning to the fruits of our labours (and the labours of the host of volunteers who actually deliver events), there is plenty planned for the next 18 months. The most significant in the next few weeks is our diamond anniversary conference, OR60. All the signs are that OR60 will be the place to be: to connect with the people and developments that represent modern OR in the UK; to find out who may be recruiting or job-hunting, who is looking for collaborators or has ideas you can use; and generally to ask about what you want to know as well as hearing what other people want you to know. And if you can’t make OR60 (or even if you can) there is much more in the calendar on our website: http://bit.ly/2INZEa4

If you have any comments, suggestions or feedback for the EC, or if you would like to get involved, or to know more about anything mentioned here, please drop me an email on
[email protected]. Better still, corner me or EC colleagues at the next event and talk to us!. 

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