PRESIDENT'S DESK: 'Member-in-Chief Memo'

Let’s do stuff!

Ed Kaplan
INFORMS President
president@informs.org

Ed Kaplan

The Internal Revenue Service defines an association as “… a group of persons banded together for a specific purpose,” and INFORMS is certainly that. But we are so much more, as our members voluntarily come together to meet our common needs, explore and address our collective problems, and strive toward our shared goals.

Yet to remain clear (and even better, excited) about what we are about, it behooves us to take a step back and ask where we are heading, and even raise the proverbial question of what we want to be when we grow up (in spite of our field having existed for about three-quarters of a century dating back to its military roots). Sorting out “that vision thing” is more than just a feel-good exercise, for having agreed-upon strategic goals establishes a framework for activities and operations that move us in the right direction.

Considerations such as these led the INFORMS board of directors to embark on a new strategic planning process over the past year with the hope of developing a mission statement and aspirational goals that reflect the breadth of our membership. With facilitation from Glenn Tecker, an expert in governance of voluntary non-profit associations, the board took on this task at its summer and fall 2015 meetings. The resulting plan was formally considered in a motion at the winter 2016 meeting held just before Winter Storm Jonas shut down the East Coast. Call it the Jonas Bonus. Ladies and gentlemen, with the unanimous approval of the board, we have a plan.

We begin with the core purpose of INFORMS, which is: advance the science and practice of quantitative decision-making via operations research and analytics. Next is the mission statement of our organization: INFORMS promotes best practices and advances in operations research, management science and analytics to improve operational processes, decision-making and outcomes. In all that we do, INFORMS will strive to reflect our three core values of integrity, innovation and equal opportunity. Then comes the heart of our plan as embodied in the four goals, which are:

  1. INFORMS will identify, recognize, and promote the work of our members to show the value their science and practice brings to society.
  2. Decision-makers will have access to, and use, innovative technologies and methodologies to transform visions, tasks or responsibilities into better choices, services and products to achieve better outcomes.
  3. Organizations will identify operations research and analytics as core components of success and institutionalize their input as part of their decision-making processes.
  4. Society: Operations research and analytics will advance society and make the world a better place.

There is logic to these goals. First and foremost, INFORMS exists to serve our members, and what better service than to promote our research and practice? By doing so, we serve to promote the operations research profession, its accomplishments and its promise. This in many ways is the “normal” goal of academic and professional societies, and remains the starting point of all we should do.

But what makes us different from our sister quantitative fields? While the main purpose of science is understanding phenomena, real or abstract, our focus on mathematical modeling is ultimately driven by the desire to help make better decisions. So, while we can (and should) talk and write about this distinguishing feature of our work, what we really should strive for is to put our concepts, mindset and tools in the hands of those making important decisions. INFORMS can and should do more to help make this happen.

Now, where do we find decision-makers? Most of the important ones reside within organizations, which makes targeting organizations to institutionalize the best of what we have to offer a challenge worthy of a goal. Of course we have been somewhat active in promoting operations research broadly defined to organizations for some time; the INFORMS Prize comes to mind. But again, we can do much more in this area, and we will.

Finally, what is the biggest organization of them all? The world and society at large. At the summer 2015 board meeting, Glenn Tecker led us through an exercise where, working in small groups, board members and senior INFORMS staff imagined newspaper headlines involving INFORMS they would most like to see in 10 years’ time. The responses were truly exciting: O.R. and analytics help tailor successful personalized treatments for cancer; organizations in all sectors are able to better use limited resources for the benefit of humanity; two INFORMS authors share the Nobel Peace Prize for humanitarian logistics. We can help with the major problems of the world, and we should strive to make the world a better place.

Future columns will revisit each of our four goals to discuss evolving plans, ongoing activities and ways you can get involved with each. Operations research, analytics included, is an amazing and exciting field of study and practice, with opportunities for all ranging from the most theoretically inclined to practitioners in the field (or the weeds!). It is a profession we should all be immensely proud of. The world is an exciting place, and operations research is not a spectator sport. So c’mon INFORMS, let’s do stuff!