Getting Involved

By James Bean INFORMS President

For most members of INFORMS, the Institute is ... the journals you receive in the mail (or online), the meetings you attend, your subdivision affiliations or INFORMS Online. However, as a membership organization, these things only happen if some subset of members get more involved and help set the direction of the Institute. While we have an excellent professional staff that executes the programs developed by the volunteer leadership, the vitality of INFORMS rests in a continuing flow of new ideas from members on how they want the Institute to support development of the field. You can get involved to help guide INFORMS.

There are many personal advantages. INFORMS volunteers meet many people from a variety of academic institutions and disciplines, a variety of industries and job titles, and many governmental agencies. Further, you become known to them. So involvement in INFORMS is a great way to view the full set of opportunities for an OR/MS professional.

You can hone skills valuable in either industry or academics such as writing, running meetings, strategic planning and change management, all in a setting where mistakes don't directly affect your job evaluation. And when you are successful, you can find supporters that can be invaluable throughout your career.

Most importantly, you can make a difference. Through involvement in INFORMS you might impact government funding policy toward NSF, change an executive's image of OR/MS and the need for an OR/MS group within the corporation, or advance the set of tools or information sources available to OR/MS professionals.

Any INFORMS member can volunteer for a committee. There are dozens of standing committees and a number of ad hoc committees dealing with all phases of INFORMS activities; education, publications, awards, meetings, information technology, publicity, marketing and membership, just to mention a few. Choose an area of interest and contact a Board member associated with that topic (www.informs.org/General/Contacts.html), or fill out the form at www.informs.org/Volunteer.

Another good way to get involved is through subdivisions. Each of the more than 100 subdivisions needs volunteers to lead the subdivision, edit newsletters, run prize committees, etc. Contact the subdivision leaders or Division Directors found at www.informs.org/Subdiv/ to discuss opportunities.

Editorial positions are another path of involvement. Publish in INFORMS journals, write excellent reviews when asked, and get to know the editors at national meetings. They select associate editors and area editors from people who have a proven understanding of the editorial processes and the publication quality of INFORMS journals.

The next level of involvement is the INFORMS Board of Directors. A Nominating Committee develops a slate of candidates for the Board. They select from among current volunteers, plus nominations made by individuals or through the electronic balloting system. The Committee seeks people who will govern the Institute effectively, to reward service to INFORMS, and to bring a diversity of views to the Board deliberations. There is also a petition process where groups of members can nominate candidates to supplement the candidates from the Nominating Committee (see Bylaw 3, Paragraph 4 at www.informs.org/General/PolicyManual/Bylaws.pdf). The petition process can improve governance by broadening the pool. Nominees stand for election each summer.

One reason to engage more people in these processes is to improve communication between the Board and the membership. To improve this communication we have proposed a restructuring of the Board. Through many discussions and revisions over the past two years, a proposal was developed that passed the Board in November. It does not become part of the Bylaws until ratified by a second Board next year.

The proposed structure has new vice presidents that represent education, membership and outreach. It replaces the subdivision directors and directors-at-large with a Subdivision Standing Committee. This group, numbering roughly 20, is responsible for communicating with the subdivisions on a regular basis. They also elect the new VP Sections/Societies and VP Chapters/Student Chapters/Fora who sit on the Board. A brief presentation on this proposal can be found at www.personal.engin.umich.edu/~jbean/INFORMS/proposal.pdf. Please contact me or other Board members with questions or concerns about this restructuring prior to the February interim Board meeting.

As a separate discussion, I make the following modest proposal. The nominating process outlined above tends to keep some members on the Board in multiple positions of increasing responsibility. This has the unintended effect of long tenures on the Board. Does this isolate the Board from the membership? I have often thought it would be a good policy to require, for any individual, a year off between each successive position on the Board. This would give a broader set of members the opportunity to serve on the Board, and give developing leaders of INFORMS the opportunity to reengage the membership periodically.

Please address comments to jbean@umich.edu. As this is my last President's Desk column, I thank the many members who have shared thoughts on these columns and thank INFORMS for the opportunity serve as 2001 president.