Leader: Four themes for the next two years

Professor Edmund Burke, President of The OR Society

I’m delighted to have the opportunity to serve The Operational Research Society as its next president. My predecessors have been outstanding and I’m very grateful to them for all their hard work and for generating such a strong and vibrant leadership environment. I’m in a privileged position to be taking over from them. In particular, I would like to thank my two immediate predecessors, John Hopes and Ruth Kaufman, for their excellent work over the last few years. I hope that my presidency is as successful as theirs have been.

Approximately, 14 months ago my ‘manifesto’ for the presidential election was published in Inside OR. It opened with a claim that we were at a moment of huge potential for a step-change in the visibility and influence of operational research, and for growth in our practice and research communities. Here, with the biennial opportunity for the new president to set out his or her thoughts, plans and aspirations for their new term of office, I hope to shed some further light on what I’d like to at least set in motion during my time at the helm. There are
four key themes and I’ll touch on each of them in the following paragraphs.

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The first area of focus is my desire for the society to engage more with government and policy-makers. OR can, and should, lie at the heart of a wide range of governmental, industrial and societal challenges. Alongside the technical aspects of solutions, OR’s ability to tackle the ‘softer’ aspects of complexity, conflict, uncertainty and human behaviour make it uniquely relevant. This is what we need to capitalise upon, and the society has a key role to play in coordinating these efforts. It must lead in placing OR at the forefront of the national research and development agenda and at the centre of business, industry and government strategy.

This is a tough challenge, so what does it entail? Clearly we need to engage with the relevant employer, government and funding bodies, and build upon the existing efforts of the whole community to do just this.

Secondly, we need to be involved with the key issues and problems that are facing local, national and global communities, such as climate change and sustainable solutions to economic growth. The OR Society should participate fully in national enquiries and consultations on big impact issues; we need to establish academic-practitioner initiatives to address problems with real-world impact. We’ve done this before and we’ve got the ideal mix of skills and innovation to make it happen again.

If the society is going to be effective in this goal, then we have to engage with the international Artificial Intelligence agenda. We simply can’t miss the opportunity afforded by the rapid technological advances that are being made in this area. Data science and artificial intelligence will play a key role in the UK government’s Industrial Strategy and are crucial to the future of a wide range of organisations across almost every sector of the economy. The society has already made a start on this. Its working party on artificial intelligence reported to board just before Christmas, and the board wholly endorsed its recommendations. This will provide an excellent foundation for the society’s work in this area.

Another major challenge for my presidency is to contribute towards steering The OR Society through significant financial uncertainty. Although I come into the presidency with the society in a very healthy financial state, the best ever, possibly, there are some serious financial risks on the horizon. Open Access publishing is likely to be a huge boost to the sharing of knowledge but it will inevitably be a disrupter to the world of publishing. With 60% of our income coming from our academic publishing contract, we need to be completely transparent about the financial risk that this brings to the society.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion was top of my manifesto list, and it remains a key priority for my presidency. Building new communities and integrating them with existing ones, increasing the membership and the diversity of people coming into the profession and all of the excellent initiatives I’ve mentioned above, must be undertaken with equality, diversity and inclusion at the forefront of our minds. The society needs to collate, share and promote best practice, and to help OR attract, support and reward talent wherever it comes from.

I’m right at the start of my two year term but I’m sure it’ll flash past. I hope you can help me take advantage of these exciting times to boost the impact of The OR Society and the profession. I’m looking forward to being your president and to working with you to take the society to the next stage of its development.

“We need to be involved with the key issues and problems that are facing local, national and global communities, such as climate change and sustainable solutions to economic growth”