The Practice of OR Forum

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Motivation and Purpose

There is potentially enormous benefit from identifying and supporting practitioners to enable them to network, share experiences, learn from each other, and potentially collaborate with each other; and even more benefit to be gained from cementing links between these practitioners and EURO's academics. This proposal is to continue to build such a network in the form of a EURO Forum (building on previous success as a EURO Working Group). The network's objective would be to support OR practitioners: people whose primary purpose is applying OR Techniques in a business/government/charity or similar environment.

This initiative was publicly "launched" at the 2016 EURO Conference in Poznań, but has a much longer history, going back to efforts made in the UK to engage practitioners in the national conference. In order to achieve this, for several years the UK OR Society has successfully included a one day "Making an Impact" (MAI) stream as part of their annual conference. Talks and activities on this day are specifically tailored to be of interest to practitioners. This important initiative was embedded into the 2015 EURO Conference organised by the UK OR Society at The University of Strathclyde, with a range of practitioner-oriented activities offered throughout the whole conference. The following is an extract from the EURO 2015 report relating to the MAI:

Making an Impact: Participative Sessions for Practitioners (everybody welcome)

"Making an Impact" (MAI) is a series of participative activities aimed at helping practitioners to become more effective.

For practitioners and academics

All MAI participative sessions are open to everybody. However, they are designed for people whose main aim is to make the organisations they work for more effective; rather than to develop the O.R. discipline, theory or quality of research. MAI aims to enable O.R. professionals to have more impact on the outside world, by helping them find solutions to typical practical challenges, gain understanding of tools/techniques they haven't used before, build their networks, and learn from others in order to inspire and expand their own practice.

MAI includes:

  • Workshops, each lasting either a whole or half session, on issues relevant to practitioners, such as: introductions to novel techniques or developments; dealing with practical issues such as cleaning data sets or quality assuring models; reflecting on professional practice and progression; and extending professional practice beyond the workplace;
  • Facilitated "speed networking" sessions to help grow your professional network;
  • Academic-practitioner collaborative sessions: a "bazaar" for sharing information on hot topics, and two panel discussions to inform better collaboration;
  • Mentoring sessions, where practitioners or would-be practitioners can receive 20 minutes of mentoring from their choice of a number of experienced practitioners;
  • "Grand Challenges": exploring how O.R. people can contribute to today's grand social challenges, to tackle disadvantage, challenge inequality and build strong, safe communities and identifying a "call to action" and next steps.

(The emphasis was placed on "participative" sessions in order to convince practitioners (and the employers who would be funding their time out of the office) of the importance of attending in person, rather than simply reading about it afterwards or watching the video. )

The organisers of the 2016 EURO conference in Poznań were keen to also incorporate MAI activities, and a multi-national "MAI team" was brought together to plan the programme. This allowed some of the momentum to be retained, although the schedule was less ambitious because fewer local practitioners could be identified. Nevertheless one of the MAI team, Josef Kallrath, suggested that we use this as the starting point for a European Practitioners' Network.

As part of EURO 2016, on Monday 4th September Ruth Kaufman (a practitioner, and President of the UK's OR Society) coordinated the "European O.R. Practitioner Network: Founding Meeting". 16 people took part representing 7 countries and working in a range of industries. Four groups were formed to discuss challenges they face and identified a number of common factors. The group also discussed what they would like to achieve through a formal network and these included: enabling collaboration; inspiration to help solve complex problems; examples of cooperating with academics; and maintaining the MAI momentum for future conferences. Potential activities will be discussed in the next section. In addition to these 16 who attended there is also an existing list of other people who had shown an early interest in a network and also people who had been involved in MAI activities.

INFORMS successfully coordinates a number of activities for practitioners predominantly in the US (such as INFORMS conference on Business Analytics & Operations Research http://meetings2.informs.org/wordpress/analytics2016/ and the organisation of the Franz Edelman prize https://www.informs.org/Recognize-Excellence/Franz-Edelman-Award ) and this suggests that there would be a benefit to practitioners if a strong network and appropriate activities could also be developed across Europe.

The advantages of setting up the Practitioner Network as a EURO Forum are:

  • Independent coordination (i.e., not run through a particular country's OR society, academic institution or industry sector)
  • Facilities of website hosting and email lists through EURO
  • MAI activities can be more easily and consistently incorporated into EURO conferences

We intend to collaborate with related EURO Working Groups, and to coordinate our activities with those of the European national OR Societies.

Activities

As many members may have difficulties in justifying lengthy attendance at conferences and meeting it is anticipated that some activities would be best arranged online e.g., virtual meetings and training sessions.

Our activities are likely to include:

  • to continue the organisation of MAI sessions within EURO-k conferences and to promote streams at other large conferences such as INFORMS, IFORS meetings;
  • to organize and support practitioner related workshops or training events;
  • to contribute practitioner-focused publications to relevant OR journals and special issues, and maintain a bibliography of such publications;
  • to organise webinars and virtual or physical meetings at least annually, both standalone and as part of major other events;
  • to interact with EWGs e.g., propose Mini conferences with a subject focused meeting that is attractive or of particular relevance to a number of industries
  • to interact with national societies to help identify their needs in terms of linking with practitioners for employment opportunities, creating consortia for grants or responding to RfPs for consultancy services, education;
  • to maintain a contact point for people looking for O.R. suppliers;
  • to maintain a website for people to contribute stories, questions, answers and jobs
  • to help with the integration of academics and practitioners, and highlight good examples of academic-practitioner collaboration
  • to provide opportunities for research developments to be converted into practical commercialised applications
  • to provide online useful materials for access by practitioners
  • to generate "White Papers" on current topics from the point of view of OR practitioners
  • to promote the benefits of OR to industry/business/government/the third sector (including not just the financial savings, but the benefits of for example greater insight or ability to consider more scenarios)
  • to provide points of contact for academics looking for realistic examples, actual data etc.

The first priority will be to generate enough practitioner-centred activity to build interest and excitement amongst the practitioner community, with academic-practitioner collaboration following on.

Membership

Practitioners are numerous in the European Operational Research community. Hence a large number of potential members is present in Europe.

Members of the coordinating group have informal connections with many industries/companies, e.g France’s OR Industrial Network bringing together major International companies’ OR representatives including: Air Liquide, EDF, ArcelorMittal, Renault, ENGIE, Huawei, Orange, SFR, SNCF, Schneider Electric, Air France as well as consulting companies such as Eurodecision, Artelys; and software providers such as LocalSolver; and the UK’s Heads of OR Forum including OR representatives of 30 organisations such as BA, BT, Transport for London, Ernst Young, FICO, and UK Government groups All these enterprises could have staff who are interested in participating in the working group.



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