Leader: Some reflections and projections

Quite some time has elapsed since the last Leader from the Education Committee! In April 2021, we reported on how the committee navigated the uncertainties associated with the pandemic and the transitioning to online meetings. Unfortunately, the uncertainty lingered on through autumn and winter; but we have been very busy and, as a committee, we feel that a lot has been achieved! 

I have been a Vice President of the ORS and a member of both ORS Board and General Council since 2017, with my second term of three years coming to an end this December. It seems a very long time since I was approached in the margins of the OR58 conference – held at Portsmouth and where I was the practitioner co-chair - and asked if I would consider standing! And of course an awful lot has happened during that time, so I thought it worth reflecting a little on some of the things I have been involved with from an ORS perspective; and also to get the crystal ball out and look into the future (spoiler alert – it’s quite misty!) 

Let’s start with a couple of obvious things. First, COVID-19, something that certainly wasn’t on the horizon when I started in 2017. I certainly won’t miss wall-to-wall meetings over zoom (other meeting apps are available!) or the difficulties in achieving meaningful networking in virtual settings. On the other hand, the reduced need to travel for meetings that could be conducted perfectly well virtually has been welcome and is definitely here to stay; and the wider reach and accessibility offered by virtual technology has also been highly beneficial. Finding the right future balance between virtual and face-to-face meetings, events and opportunities is one of the issues of the moment and it will be interesting to see how that plays out for ORS as well as more widely. For example, the Analytics (and AI) Development Group that I chair has met virtually throughout COVID-19 and continues to do so currently, albeit with an aspiration to resume periodic “real” meetings. These are likely to be particularly important when an interactive workshop-style session is required or when introducing new members to the group. It is a truism that established groups and relationships are easier to maintain virtually, but setting up new linkages is rather harder. To borrow from General Norman Schwarzkopf of 1990’s Gulf War fame – I have to show my Defence roots somewhere! – the “storming” phase of group dynamics, where a new group establishes how it will work effectively, is much harder to do virtually than the “performing” phase, where the group dynamics and personal relationships are at a relatively steady state. 

Alan Robinson.png

Alan Robinson, The OR Society Vice President and Chair Analytics and AI Development Group

Second, a sage colleague suggested to me when I started that it would be good to have something significant to aim for, that can be looked back on in the future – as well, of course, as the need to help keep the ORS “ship” running effectively no matter how choppy the waters. In the former category, I am very pleased to have seen through ADG’s work on the impact of AI (in particular machine learning) for both OR and for the ORS. This was delivered via a Task and Finish group that reported to ADG, the findings of which were then endorsed by ORS Board. It will be interesting to see what ADG chooses to focus on next. We’re already working more closely on areas like potential biases in AI and how to mitigate them – but the broader agenda will be something for my successor!

Another thing I’ve been very pleased to have been able to help to see through to fruition is the Level 7 (masters-level) apprenticeship standard; I also sit on the Education committee that has led on the delivery of that standard and have contributed to the ORS taking on an end-point-assessment role. The first cohort from GORS (the Government OR Service) is already part way through its two-year apprenticeship with a second intake being set up. I think this is a great addition to what ORS offers for our members. It also sits alongside other opportunities for education and recognition, for example around the new OR-flavoured data science award, Chartered Scientist, and our long-standing ORS accreditation mechanisms. And, another of ADG’s aspirations is to develop some education and training material based around its work on ethics, biases and their implications in particular for machine learning and data science-based approaches.

The current elephant in the room – it’s a rather big one! - is around the cost-of-living crisis. This should be another huge opportunity for OR – as well as potentially a challenge for ORS – just as with COVID-19. OR has a huge part to play, whether that be in assisting Government decision-making, within our individual organisations or on an individual basis. HORAF – the Heads of OR and Analytics Forum for senior practitioners (see update article on page 11 in the May issue) – will be having its first significant discussion of the potential contribution of OR in this topic area at its September meeting.

Beyond that, my crystal ball is rather misty! In 2017, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been expecting a major pandemic, a war in Europe and a significant cost-of-living crisis let alone the seemingly ever-accelerating challenges surrounding climate change! However, OR – and the ORS – continues to respond and adapt to whatever comes along and from that perspective I’m sure we will continue to thrive.

It has been a huge privilege to serve as ORS Vice President for the last (nearly) six years. I’m not going yet, however, and will still be an active practitioner - albeit now semi-retired - once I step down so if anything I’ve written chimes with you or you would like to follow up just drop me a line.

Alan Robinson [email protected]