Leader: Our Shared Purpose

John Hopes.jpg

This will be my last lead article for Inside OR before I leave the board at the end of the year after ten years as a trustee. By pure chance it also coincides with the 40th anniversary of my becoming a member of The OR Society. But I don’t intend to dwell on the past, other than by briefly referring back to my first lead article, nine years ago, where I said that, to me, the importance of OR Society membership was the sense it creates of belonging to a community.

Today I would go further and say that the important thing is not just the community, but its shared purpose, to create a world improved by rigorous analysis and better, evidence-based decisions. I believe this is more important than ever, in a world where truth itself feels to be under threat and where more and more people seem to dismiss evidence that doesn’t accord with their preconceived view of the world. OR people, by contrast, are keen to challenge themselves and their preconceptions with the, often unexpected, truths that are revealed by their analysis. And this is an important quality in a world of increasingly entrenched and uninformed opinion.

OR and analytics are also more important than ever because
of the insight and clarity that they bring to the most important and complex problems, such as climate change, the productivity puzzle or the wave of automation following from advances in AI. It is vital that the OR community and The OR Society demonstrate the role that OR plays in dealing with such issues. There is no shortage of examples to deal with from our conferences and publications, but the communication still needs to be done. I know that our president, Edmund Burke, is committed to getting this message across to government policy makers.

Another important aspect of community is the wider network of organisations within which The OR Society operates. And this is an area where there have been big changes in recent years. In the age of Big Data and AI it is vital to have increased collaboration and cooperation between interested parties because many talents need to come together in order to be effective, and there is a substantial skills shortage. Examples of such collaboration by The OR Society include: our joint Analytics Summit with the RSS which is now in its ninth year; the well-established Mathematics of OR conference run jointly with the IMA; our partnering with INFORMS to provide the CAP certification; our recent joint sponsorship with the Ada Lovelace Institute and others of the Validate AI conference; and joint working with our fellow CMS Societies to drive forward the Big Mathematics knowledge exchange initiative. We are now working with the Royal Society, the BCS and the RSS to develop a skills framework and standards for the emerging discipline of data science. This activity, in particular, explicitly recognises that no single learned society or professional body can own this space, but that we all have something of value to contribute.

It is also significant that the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) has partnered with us to help them with their data analytics initiative, demonstrating that they see us as leaders in this field. This partnership should be very visible to our members in 2020, as the ICAEW join in with our Analytics Network events and co-sponsor this year’s Analytics Summit.

Collaboration like this is important in its own right, but it also helps us raise the profile of OR, enabling us to demonstrate to all these other bodies what it is we do and what value it brings. This is fundamental to our strategy. We now have many valuable partnerships, but they have tended to come to us as one-off opportunities. It is now time to take a more strategic approach to establishing ourselves within a wider ecosystem of partner organisations that will help us deliver our charitable aims. 

Sticking with the theme, as I come to the end of the article, I
would like to thank all those who have contributed to the sense of community that I have valued so much through 40 years of membership and nine years on the board. I would particularly like to thank Gavin and the ORS staff with whom I have worked closely in recent years, and who do such a good job in keeping the machinery of the society running smoothly. Their numbers have grown by 50% in the last few years and that has ensured that the society can now do more than ever in support of its charitable objects.

I would also like to thank all my general council colleagues past and present, who give their time for free to play such a major role in setting the direction and running the activities of the society. They bring many different perspectives and an enormous amount of collective experience to bear on the challenges and opportunities that we face. It has been great working with you all.

Another personal thank you should go to HORAF and its predecessor bodies, to which I belonged for over 20 years. It has been a great comfort to know that there are other people who do what we do, and who provide a support group for one another in this esoteric field of ours.

Finally, I would like to thank any who have made it through to the end of this article, wishing you every success with your future careers and with the mission to improve decision making through the use of OR.