The meetings spectrum

INFORMS PresidentRina


INFORMS “products and services,” at least today, focus around two main areas – publications and meetings. In this column I will focus on meetings: how they have changed in the past decade, what is the make-up of the meetings landscape today, and what are the (intended) benefits of the various types of meetings.

Our conferences and meetings have evolved quite substantially in the past few years, with an ever-increasing number, types and attendees. Many recall the time when we had two “national” meetings a year. Back then, having a meeting with more than 1,600 attendees was a success. Today it is challenging to find venues that can host our single annual meeting, with more than 4,000 presentations and 4,000 attendees.

I would attribute attendance growth to the constantly improving quality of the meeting. In addition, the meeting has become the annual opportunity to connect with colleagues. Some would say that the meeting is too large; that it is difficult to find people; that there are too many parallel sessions. I would argue that the benefits of having a large meeting outweigh the challenges. The energy and communication channels on top of the amount of material presented are unique.

Moving to a single fall meeting prompted and paved the way to launch a new type of a meeting – originally called the “Practice Meeting” and recently rebranded as the “Business Analytics Meeting” – held in the spring. This year’s Business Analytics Meeting, set for April 10-12 in Chicago, marks 10 years since the first such meeting was held in San Diego.

The Business Analytics Meeting is very different than the annual meeting. It is much smaller, catering to hundreds of people instead thousands. The spring meeting has less than 10 tracks, with very carefully selected topics and speakers, by invitation only. The talks are more focused on practice and results of implementing methodologies. All the events, such as organized lunches, “birds of the feathers” topic-based discussion tables and panel discussions, aim to provide constant opportunity for networking. Most people are “listeners” versus presenters.

Presdident chart

Figure 1: Attendance and presentations at the national meeting have soared. The red line indicates attendees, the green line indicates presentations.

The Business Analytics Meeting has also changed through the years. For example, the Edelman competition has become an important part of the conference where the winners are announced in dramatic fashion during an evening awards dinner and gala. Program organizers have added two tracks for contributed papers that are very carefully selected. (This year’s event drew a record number of submissions.) At the Business Analytics Meeting, people come to discuss their business problems with others, learn from others’ experiences, see what they can adopt from other fields, learn new methodologies and form collaborations. These networking opportunities and the excellent content are the top two reasons why attendees attend.

Unlike these the Business Analytics Meeting and the Annual Meeting held each spring and fall, respectively, INFORMS’ international meetings were held sporadically and opportunistically up until 2006. As of 2006, INFORMS institutionalized them. On its own or in collaboration with another O.R. organization, INFORMS now helps organize an international meeting every summer when there is no IFORS meeting. (IFORS, the International Federation of O.R. organizations from all over the world, holds a meeting every three years.) In 2009, INFORMS collaborated with CORS in Toronto, last year with ALIO in Buenos Aires. INFORMS will hold a meeting in Beijing in 2012, and the Institute is working to form a collaboration with EURO for a meeting in Rome in 2013. The international meetings have a special role as they provide an opportunity for INFORMS members to interact and exchange research with colleagues around the world, crossing borders and cultures.

In the last few years, INFORMS also launched more “local” meetings, where local is defined by geography or topic. In 2007, the subdivision council initiated the first “regional meeting.” The premise was to have a meeting that provides a low-investment venue for people who cannot afford to go to the larger meetings or are not yet connected enough with INFORMS to make the larger investment of time and money. The regional meetings have become very successful, and two more are scheduled for 2011.
Subdivisions are very strong constituents of INFORMS. Many of them have been organizing or holding their own meetings on an annual or bi-annual basis for many years. This year INFORMS is introducing “topic” meetings that will focus on a particular research area. The first, focusing on health care, will be held June 20-11 in Montreal, Canada. Like the international meetings, the topic meetings are expected to cut across society and geographical borders while reaching out to international constituents as well as to individuals based in the United States.

Finally, INFORMS members have a long history of organizing various local chapter events. These are generally more casual evening events, and their frequency and quality is based on the passion and effort of the local chapter champions.

So what can you do to get more from INFORMS meetings? First, simply attend. Find the type of meeting that’s most suitable for you. Network, present your work, form collaborations. Then, become more active by volunteering at your local chapter events, organizing a session or organizing a track trough your subdivision. Later you may want to participate in organizing a regional meeting or volunteering at the national level. Whichever way and level you choose, I am sure you will find it rewarding and energizing.