Monday, 8 September 2014

What a difference a ‘year’ makes: Pro Bono O.R. one year on…

A year ago I had never heard of the term ‘Operational Research’ or in fact heard of ‘The OR Society’.  One year on the terms have become part of my daily vocabulary and one of my aims is to ensure other people have heard about The OR Society and in particular how significant operational research is and the enormous impact it can have in benefiting the world in which we live.

My first exposure to operational research was The OR Society’s annual conference (OR55) last September.  I was amazed at the ways in which operational research could be used in all sectors and how significant it was in helping to increasing efficiency and effectivness, reducing costs, helping plan strategy and much much more.  As OR56 starts today I am able to look back at the last year and reflect on how operational research has been used to impact the third sector.

I have had the pleasure of managing the Pro Bono O.R. project which is a service provided on behalf of The OR Society to Third Sector organisations (UK only) in order to provide them with access to O.R. at the cost of expenses only.

The aims of the Pro Bono O.R. scheme are:
       To help Third Sector organisations to do a better job;
       To promote O.R. in the Third Sector;
       To give O.R. analysts an opportunity to practise in a wider arena and widen their skills.

We found these were some of the problems the third sector was facing:
        ‘We have lots of different options for the future but it’s impossible to decide which to choose in such uncertain times.’
        ‘We’re under huge pressure to do more with less, and we don’t know how we’re going to do it.’
        ‘It’s hard to stay objective when we’re faced with such emotionally charged decisions.’
        ‘We know we’re doing a good job – but how can we prove it?’

A large part of my role has been promoting and increasing awareness of the project to both organisations who could benefit from pro bono O.R. and volunteer analysts who work on the projects.

Over the last 12 months we have had interest from 60 organisations, have completed 6 projects, have 13 projects that are currently being worked on, have 3 which are establishing a project scope and a further 10 that are in the initial enquiry stage.   Information on the completed case studies can be found on the webpage:

I have recruited 100 new volunteers since September 2013 and we know have over 200 volunteer on the database.  Of those around 130 are active and ready to work on projects.  These volunteers are made up of both members of the society and non-members.  In the past year we have advertised 21 projects to our volunteers, 54 of the volunteers have applied to work on projects and of those 28 have worked or are currently working on projects.

It has been really rewarding to hear how successful this project has been both from the organisations and the volunteers.

Here’s what a few of the organisations have had to say:
‘We’ve benefited hugely from your work and support in all areas of the project, and from an organisational perspective you’ve enabled us to take a highly professional approach to increasing the efficiency of our charity.’

‘The work is already supporting our planning and development for next year and allowing us to focus our thoughts and decisions on the places of most importance for our organisation’

‘Brilliant – it makes the predictions of risk visible.  This will be so useful’

Here is what a few of our volunteers have said:

"It’s a chance to make a difference, practice getting to the heart of a problem quickly, meet some very dedicated people and use techniques which you might not in your every day job"

"I’ve really enjoyed working with third sector organisations and found the staff extremely positive about the contribution we make"

"Working as a pro bono volunteer is a great way to contribute some professional expertise to some truly worthwhile causes.  The Third Sector is full of people who feel passionately about their Mission, so working with them is invariably a positive learning experience"

If you are an organisation that would like to receive Pro Bono O.R. support or have the skills to become a volunteer, please do not hesitate to get in touch.  Please visit: or send an email to

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