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The Members of IFORS – IFORS News 2016

As President of IFORS (the International Federation of Operational Research Societies), I write a quarterly column for the IFORS News.  I am biased, but I think the newsletter is amazingly well done (thanks Elise!) and I highly recommend reading all of it.  Here is my March 2016 column.

I recently received an email from some conference organizers asking for IFORS to co-sponsor their conference. As part of the incentive for us to do so, they offered a reduced registration fee for “all your members”. I spent some time pondering what that might mean for IFORS. The IFORS membership consists of 52 member societies. Did they mean to offer reduced registration to the nearly 30,000 members of our constituent societies? That would certainly put a dent into their regular fee registrations! Or perhaps they had in mind that our societies might register on their own? “Hi, I am France. Can I get a room for 440 please?” Clearly the concept of “society of societies” is not common, and an aspect that makes IFORS unusual in the operational research world.

I have been thinking of this in the context of “member services”. When I was President of INFORMS (our United States-based society) 15 years ago, a major theme of my presidency was examining why people joined societies and what services a society should provide to encourage membership. The year 2002 was a year in which membership in INFORMS continued to decline, and some worried that this was a harbinger of the death of operations research. In retrospect, nothing could be further from the truth with many societies showing recent increases in membership, not least due to the rise of “analytics”. But spending time thinking about members and their needs was a good thing to do. During that retrospection, we identified services that we lacked and services that were mispriced. By concentrating on the members, INFORMS became, I believe, a society more relevant to its membership.

What does it mean for IFORS to consider member services? While some IFORS services are aimed at the 30,000 members of our membership, I do believe we need to think more about what we offer two distinct groups. The first is the membership itself: how is IFORS helping the national societies and regional groupings be stronger? What services are we offering that make it clear why a society should be a member of IFORS? How are we helping our four regional groupings of EURO, ALIO, APORS and NORAM? Of course, given the range of societies and their needs, it is clear that different members need different things. IFORS members range in size from those with thousands of members to societies whose membership can be comfortably seated around a restaurant table, and it is unlikely that any service will be relevant to all.

As a step towards understanding the needs of our members better, the IFORS Administrative Committee will be doing a series of breakfasts at major OR conference (EURO, INFORMS, and CLAIO this year). On a personal level, I am eager to meet with the various societies during my travels over the next years. I can’t promise to get to all 52 member countries, but I am going to try to visit as many as I possibly can!

The second group that we need to provide services for are those in operational research without a national society. We know that OR is everywhere, so IFORS should play an active role in encouraging the development of OR communities where none currently exist. There are 193 members of the United Nations which means IFORS has at least 141 members to go.

These are great times for operational research. There is increased interest in our field, and those whose skills encompass OR and analytics are increasingly successful. IFORS can play a strong role in a corresponding success for operational research societies, both existing and those to come.