Leader - My kingdom for a well-defined remit!

Gavin Blackett FORS

The opportunity to write the leader article for Inside OR is not one that comes my way very often and, whilst I was happy to grab the chance, the prospect of pulling together something vaguely coherent has been a bit of challenge. I don’t have the specific focus that the chairs of our committees do, nor the well-defined remit of, say, our honorary treasurer, so I’ll be rattling through whatever comes to mind!

My initial thought was to focus on the big ticket items for the society, and of course the biggest of all is the income from our portfolio of publications. Richard Eglese gave a wonderful summary of the current (academic) publishing sector in his leader last month. It left me little scope to add anything, but I will point you to a programme that aired recently on Radio 4. It summarised the challenging market conditions perfectly, and is well worth a listen if you want a quick precis of the scenario (although it may not be available to readers outside the UK). Quite a few articles have appeared in the press talking about the coming ‘open access’ revolution, but this is one of the few to acknowledge the unintended consequences, particularly the importance of publishing income to learned societies like ours; it’s not just big publishers enjoying these rewards. As Richard said, we support the ideas of open access publishing – it fits perfectly with our charitable objectives. The trouble could be that Plan S and the associated dash towards an ideal scenario is perhaps pushing us and the current publishing models too fast. You can find the recording of the programme The Great Science Publishing Scandal on the BBC Radio 4 website.

Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is another challenge that I’ve been trying to get to grips with through various elements of the organisation. In a sense, getting a picture of the nature of our membership ought to be the easiest element of this – just point the members to the standard D&I questionnaire, and that’ll give us a benchmark to be judged upon. But of course, it’s not that simple. There are data collection questions to be answered. Do we associate the responses to member records, or do we collect it anonymously? The first allows us to build up a fuller picture over time, and does give us the perfect base against which to measure many other activities, but it places additional responsibility on us to ensure the data is secure and never used for unintended purposes. The anonymous route might be ‘safer’ but it perhaps gives us less – only particular timestamped snapshots – and how often to you need to repeat it? And how easy is it to draw conclusions from one sample to the next? The other issue (that hadn’t previously crossed my mind) is whether the ethnic options presented mean anything to our non-UK members and contacts.


We’d like to do D&I monitoring in a great many of our activities, but that adds extra challenges. If we were talking about our main conference, we probably ought to be collecting D&I data at many steps in the process to help identify if there are any particular barriers coming into play at any point. But how, as a potential delegate, would you feel about being asked for your D&I data at three or four different points in your journey from initial interest through submitting a paper to booking and attending? The same goes for publications; how do we get pictures of our different communities? The editors, the reviewers, the authors and eventually the readers?

None of these are straight-forward problems, but nonetheless they’re problems we need to address if we’re to ensure we’re a fair society offering access to everyone with an interest in OR. Elsewhere in this issue you should find an ‘advert’ for a task and finish group we’re putting together to help us more this important task forward. If you’re passionate about helping us deliver all of the benefits of a diverse membership and community, please consider signing up to be involved.

Six hundred words have already found their way into my document, so I needn’t really add more, but I will! My final topic will be the recently launched new version of the website. My initial emails and interactions on this date back to 2016, and this either gives an indication of how inefficient we’ve been in delivering it, or a measure of just how complex a beast it is! Of course, I’m bound to say it’s the latter. It certainly has been a long and challenging project to get it to the go-live point. I hope you’ve had a chance to register, to log in and to have a look through everything it has to offer. Actually, the most challenging part of the project is still to come – making sure we realise the benefits that we identified way back at the start. I’d encourage you to get stuck into it, and if there’s something missing or not quite as slick as you’d like, get in touch with your feedback.