The summer of O.R.: sharing stORies and telling it like it is!

Ed Kaplan
INFORMS President

Ed Kaplan

MiC’s summer of O.R. began with a visit to Ulaanbaatar to introduce basic operations research methods to Mongolian statisticians teaching in universities and working in government agencies (see page 44). It continued with state-of-the-art talks (and great company) at the national meeting of the Operations Research Society of Israel (ORSIS) in Ma’ale Hachamisha, a beautiful setting in the hills west of Jerusalem. The next stop was a workshop on pattern matching at Bar Ilan University (with applications ranging from scheduling to Talmudic logic), after which it was time for the 2,000+ attendee 28th European Operational Research Society (EURO) conference in Poznan, Poland.

There were, of course, additional exciting O.R. conference opportunities this summer, including the INFORMS international meeting in Hawaii and the MSOM conference in New Zealand. Taken together, all of this points to the plethora of activity in our field. It also indicates that we don’t seem to have too much trouble getting together to talk amongst ourselves and share ideas.

But while we feel connected to our academic and professional colleagues around the globe, what about looking to the outside? INFORMS members produce great work and research, and are trusted authorities in our fields. You are published in journals, quoted in the media, and called upon by many different types of organizations for your expertise. And as the world’s largest operations research society, INFORMS has a special duty to promote your work, for to paraphrase our strategic plan, “INFORMS will identify, recognize and promote the work of our members to show the value their science and practice brings to society.”

How does INFORMS tell our stORies? The INFORMS professional staff tries to keep up proactively with member accomplishments in research that have proven (or could prove) newsworthy. Other ways the staff promotes the membership include responding to and creating opportunities to talk with media, and finding speaking engagements or other ways to increase visibility and external engagement.

Really big “shew”: MiC Ed Kaplan gets in character during educational trip to Mongolia.

Really big “shew”: MiC Ed Kaplan gets in character during educational trip to Mongolia.

Nonetheless, keeping up with the activities and expertise of the many thousands of INFORMS members for this effort is a very real challenge. While we can effectively search for members who publish in our journals and speak at our conferences, at present we can’t efficiently or effectively do so from non-INFORMS sources, academic or otherwise. Of course, INFORMS also relies upon member self-reporting of new breakthroughs, media appearances, government service, non-INFORMS awards or other recognition, but such reporting is incomplete. We need and want to do more. How might we systematize things a bit better?

We have an idea. We want to create a new automated way to search for member expertise to match the right members with the right “visibility” opportunities. We envision that this new automated tool will use the proprietary data from the INFORMS member database as input to searches for publically available information about members’ activities using publicly available tools such as Google Scholar and Google News. This would enable the generation of user friendly and on-demand INFORMS Subject Matter Expert (SME) Reports.

There are various ways this could work. For example, a search could be triggered by keywords pertaining to a recent news event (e.g., “airport security,” “third-party candidate,” “Zika virus,” “Uber pricing,” etc.). These keywords would then be used in conjunction with the INFORMS membership data to search for INFORMS members who are connected to the keywords in either the news or the scholarly literature (over a defined time frame). This would be especially helpful in surfacing INFORMS member research appearing in non-INFORMS journals that pertains to the topic of interest, and could also in short notice surface media mentions of our members that otherwise might not be reported to us. A different search could inventory members’ new publications or media mentions over a defined time period (monthly, for example), and then classify the results by topic to see which areas of activity are of highest frequency while staying on the lookout for new ideas.

Such a capability would enhance our outreach and engagement activities by enabling INFORMS staff to easily search on any issue or topic to identify and promote our members as subject matter experts. Timely knowledge of our members’ accomplishments will enable INFORMS staff to spread the wORd about our field by “telling it like it is!” A potential added benefit may be to enable our members to more easily search for the broader works of their peers or for members with specific expertise. Again, the novelty involves using the INFORMS member database as input in conjunction with other search terms or parameters to produce INFORMS-member-specific searches.

So, how might we develop this new tool? This sounds like an analytics challenge, so why not turn to some of our INFORMS in-house experts? We propose to hold a one-time, crowd-sourced competition to design and build the INFORMS SME Report Generator. The competition would only be open to INFORMS members. Participants would design the report and the search interfaces and features. As envisioned, the report’s users should be able to easily run the report and search as they commonly do in a modern web-based or cloud environment.

INFORMS will establish a new ad hoc committee to dot the “i’s” and cross the “t’s” (that is, to develop the specific technical requirements and to oversee this one-time competition). We hope our tool will be operational in early 2017.

All of INFORMS’ strategic goals speak to outreach and awareness – letting the world know about our members, O.R., and its impact and value for decision-makers, organizations and society. This competition and resulting tool will help accomplish these goals. Keep your eyes peeled for more detailed announcements as we continue looking for ways to promote our field and help INFORMS tell our stORies!