Leader: We’re still not in Kansas

John Medhurst: Chair OR Society Events Committee

Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, the world of Events has been subject to some significant changes in the past few years. No tornadoes or yellow brick roads were involved, but the previous chair of Events Committee had to oversee a complete change from in-person events to the virtual variety and, as the current chair, I have had to deal with the issues involved in reversing the process and returning to the physical events that we have traditionally organised.

This return to physical events has been gradual and started with the 2022 Analytics Summit at the beginning of July at the Institute for Engineering and Technology in London. This event had just over a hundred attendees, of whom a quarter were virtual. Later in the same month 38 ISMOR returned to Royal Holloway with a similar number of attendees, but where almost everyone was present in person.

These events both had a mixture of some virtual activities and some physical though it still seems to be difficult to manage events in such a way as to produce a single experience which is equally enjoyable and involving whether you are attending in person or virtually. We are continuing to pursue this, however, and we would be very interested in any members who have experience of successful models for fully blended events.

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The moment at which the ruby slippers were definitively tapped together was the annual conference at the University of Warwick in September. By conscious decision of the OR64 committee and the Society, this was an entirely face-to-face conference. The annual conference is one of those things that binds together the various disciplines, specialities and communities that constitute operational research in the UK and it was felt that it was important for us all to have the chance to come together in person and renew these connections.

We are aware however that for some people the risks involved in meeting face-to-face are still too great and we hope that the continuing programme of virtual events and options provide an effective alternative.

For those able to attend, OR64 was a fun-packed conference,  with all the buzz and excitement of face-to face interaction.  There were sessions full of pertinent questions and sometimes animated discussion, including a full Making an Impact workshop programme and a set of plenaries with a strong practical focus. There was also a full social programme, with delegates having the opportunity to tour a local brewery. There was also the chance to try and run a simulated beer supply chain with the Beer Game as part of Making an Impact. Finally, and for the first time in three years, there was a Gala Dinner, with food, wine and dancing. For those of you interested
in numbers, OR64 had 275 registered delegates giving 165 presentations and 170 delegates attended the Gala Dinner.

The committee is to be congratulated on the way in which it met the challenge of our first fully in-person conference since 2019. It may not be our biggest ever conference, but was certainly one of the most anticipated and one that all those who attended will not soon forget.

Another important step forward for the Events offered by the Society this year is the establishment of a new, named annual lecture – the WORAN Land Lecture, named in honour of Ailsa Land, the first female Professor of Operational Research in the UK. The first Land Lecture was held on Ada Lovelace Day – 11 October 2022 – with Professor Carole Blundell of the University of Bath as the speaker. This is the first of The OR Society’s  named lectures to honour a female pioneer of OR.

We also have a packed programme for Events in 2023, including the Simulation Workshop (SW23), the re-branded New2OR, Validate AI and our joint conference with the IMA plus the usual annual events, including the Beale Lecture, ISMOR, OR65 at Bath, the second WORAN Land Lecture and the Blackett Lecture. As usual we are looking for volunteers to help make all these events the same kind of success that we saw in our 2022
programme. If that might be you then please do get in touch.

OR65 will be at the University of Bath and will have the usual exciting opportunities to present your work and learn about new developments in OR, but with the additional attraction of the opportunity to see the Bath World Heritage Site including the elegant Crescent, the famous Roman Baths, and the Pump Room.

We have also been thinking about the strategy for Events for the Society and their future direction. The last few years have provided an opportunity to stop and think about what we are doing and whether the events we are providing meet the needs of our audience. This includes the question of the right balance of virtual and live events but is more fundamental than that.

Things have changed – like Dorothy, we are not in Kansas anymore – and it is not enough to just return to what we used to do. How do we get to the Emerald City?

We would like to know what it is that Events do for you and your organisation. What is it that you value most about our events and how can we improve? We are interested in hearing from academics, practitioners, and retired members and from those involved in all areas of OR, whether hard or soft. Please send us your thoughts using the email at the bottom of this leader article. 

Finally, it is important to recognise that all of this would not have happened without the many volunteers and hard-working OR Society staff members who work on our events – this column gives me the opportunity to say a big thank you from me personally to all of them.