Friday, 19 December 2014

Helping the Hungry by Improving Processes

Helping the Hungry by Improving Processes (Press release)

The O.R. (Operational Research) Society runs a Pro Bono O.R. scheme which provides third sector organisations in the UK access to free O.R. consultancy that can help increase efficiency and effectiveness.  In April 2013 Welcome Centre food bank received support to help them to prepare for an increased demand on their services.

The rise in the number of people using food banks has increased dramatically in 2014. David McAuley, the chief executive of the Trussell Trust, says that in reality half a million people are struggling to feed their families.   

The Welcome Centre in Huddersfield provides emergency food and toiletries packs, household goods, bedding and clothes to people in crisis.  As proved to be the case in 2014, The Welcome Centre was expecting a big increase in demand and needed to know how the operation could be improved both in the short term and for the future when new IT and accommodation could be found.

The consultants studied documents relating to the Centre’s operation, and visited to see it in practice, its constraints and difficulties. They devised a questionnaire which was sent out to management, trustees, staff/volunteers, donors and referring agencies seeking initial views on problem areas and possible solutions.  They used the responses to the questionnaires to design a half-day workshop which was attended by a mix of trustees, the manager, staff and volunteers. The  workshop discussed problems and potential solutions, then considered ‘ideal ‘business processes for the future, to assist the trustees and management in designing systems to be used after the Centre’s move to new accommodation. Each group looked at a different set of processes: receiving, sorting and storing goods, and handling referrals, sorting out packs and handing to client. A report recommending quick wins and longer term plans was delivered and discussed by the trustees.

Outputs from the study included a management report which was discussed by trustees, suggestions for new IT systems and a summary of: problems faced by staff & volunteers, outcomes from workshop, quick wins and recommended future processes.

The benefits to the food bank were enhanced communication between all parties, appreciation by trustees of day to day problems facing staff/volunteers and vice versa, a clear list of problems together with simple quick solutions and process maps detailing: current processes and an outline of recommended future processes.

The Chair of Trustees said ‘With your input we feel we are more equipped to deal with the expansion of the organisation’.

The current feedback from the Welcome Centre is that things are much improved for two main reasons – improved accommodation with more space and the introduction of a new client database.  Many of the recommendations have been implemented and there is now a satisfaction with how things operate. 

For further information about Pro Bono O.R. and to see more case studies please visit: or contact Felicity McLeister (O.R. Pro Bono Project Manager) on 0121 233 9300 or email

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Pro Bono O.R. Christmas newsletter

The OR Society: Pro Bono O.R. (December 2014 newsletter - Issue 1)
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Thank you!
Well what a year 2014 has been for Pro Bono O.R.  Whether you are a volunteer analyst, an organisation who we have supported or a contact who supports or promotes the scheme, I want to say a big thank you from myself and all the staff at The OR Society, without your support we would not be where we are today.

The Beginning
Back in 2011 a few members of the society got together and decided to pilot a scheme to offer third sector organisations free consultancy to help to help reduce costs and improve utilisation of limited resources.  On the back of its success in September 2013 The OR Society launched its Pro Bono O.R. scheme.

Where we are now
Since Sept 2013 the scheme has completed 9 projects, has 15 active projects and a further 10 which are being scoped.  Below you can see some of the organisations we have worked with and are currently working with. We currently have over 200 volunteers across the UK and these range from retired professionals to analysts in their early career, consultants and others in the O.R./analytics profession who either volunteer in their own time, are given company time or a mixture of both.

For me the best thing about this scheme is the real difference O.R. can make.  The feedback I receive from both the organisations and the volunteers has been overwhelmingly positive.
What the organisations say:
"We are enormously grateful for being able to benefit from the advice and support of such a knowledgeable and experienced professional, who was able to raise challenging issues in a sensitive and helpful way"
"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
What the volunteers say:
"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"

Finding out more
Click here to find out more about volunteering
Click here to find out how to receive support
Click here to see all the completed case studies
For further information please visit the webpage 

Best wishes and have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Felicity McLeister

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Monday, 15 December 2014

Food bank case study: See how O.R. is helping the hungry by improving processes

The rise in the number of people using food banks has increased dramatically in 2014. David McAuley the chief executive of the Trussell Trust says that in reality half a million people are struggling to feed their families.   

In an article in the Guardian, David McAuley said 'Going to a food bank is a last resort when all else has failed'  See the full article here.

Last year two Pro Bono O.R. volunteers were asked to help the Welcome Centre food bank. The centre was expecting a big increase in demand and needed to know how the operation could be improved both in the short term and for the future.  Following questionnaires and a series of workshops the Chair of trustees said 'with your input we feel we are more equipped to deal with the expansion of the organisation'.

For further details of the case study please see the slide below:

For further case studies please visit: or for futher information please email me at

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Using Knowledge Management to increase Third Sector Resilience

Using Knowledge Management to increase Third Sector Resilience: a Third Sector Special Interest Group discussion (The OR Society)
by Ruth Kaufman and Nigel Cummings

Whilst there has been much talk about the need for third sector organisations to collaborate, there has been scant coverage of how to manage the shared information and knowledge flows that underpin such partnerships. The Third Sector Special Interest Group (SIG) was therefore delighted to host a joint presentation from Dr Gillian Ragsdell, Senior Lecturer in Knowledge Management at Loughborough University and Moya Hoult, Chief Officer of Charnwood Citizens Advice Bureau, describing a knowledge management application aimed at doing exactly that.

Charnwood Connect is a project spearheaded by Charnwood CAB and funded for two years by the Big Lottery, bringing advice and advocacy services in the area together into collaborative service provision. The aim is to make the best use of resources in the current environment of funding cuts and statutory service restructuring. Successful knowledge sharing is clearly key to successful collaboration.

Gillian started by tapping her head and explaining “It’s all about getting what’s ‘up here’ into a format that can be used by an organisation. So, capturing knowledge is important because, when personnel leave an organisation, knowledge leaves with them.” She went on to discuss different strategies for managing knowledge – one that focuses on knowledge as an asset and one that emphasises social processes – and stressed that the Charnwood Connect project consciously embraces both. Gillian highlighted that Knowledge Management has changed considerably since its beginnings. “Today we are managing knowledge in a world where there is a huge amount of information, where we connect with people in different time zones through different media, and so on…  All of these changes have made Knowledge Management more exciting and even more necessary, but also more challenging”.

Gillian went on to illustrate the processes involved in Knowledge Management and, in particular, why many lessons can be learned from the ways in which the voluntary sector manages its knowledge, and the holistic approach adopted for Charnwood Connect.  Picking up the story, Moya had much to say about the challenges of Charnwood Connect, and how Knowledge Management techniques had proved useful. The focus of how Citizens Advice Bureaux dealt with public problems had, she said, “changed, considerably over the years. It used to be all about crisis management but now considerably more emphasis is placed upon preventative work”.

Moya gave some examples of changes introduced as a result of the project. The change to collaborative service provision meant that it was important to set up robust referral systems with partners, and to investigate new ways of connecting with clients. One of the most effective ways, she said, was to remind clients of their appointments by sending out appointment reminder text messages. This and the implementation of a ‘Connect Card’ were being tested over a three month period. Early results had been very encouraging: the text message approach for example, had resulted in reducing “did not attend” figures considerably whilst the Connect Cards had proved to be extremely effective aide memoires for clients.

Moya also discussed the development of an IT Knowledge Hub for Charnwood Connect:  an essential component of the system for sharing best practices.
Cultural differences between collaborating organisations also need to be allowed for, and Moya gave the example of the role of volunteers. Whilst volunteers are the core of a CAB service, other partners in Charnwood Connect had mainly used volunteers for “back office” duties.  All partners were being encouraged to use volunteers in “frontline” positions. Volunteers gain valuable skills and experience whilst the organisations can benefit from an increase in resources and capacity.

The presentation had been preceded by the General Meeting of the Third Sector SIG, summarising what they have been doing since the last meeting in 2012, and flagging up some of the plans for next year, including a half-day meeting focusing on young people’s services, and joint meetings with Regional Societies.  Find out more about the SIG and ORS’s third sector activities on the website ( or follow Felicity McLeister on Twitter @FMcLeister

Monday, 8 December 2014

IFORS (International Federation of OR Societies) promotes Pro Bono O.R. who are leading the way with skilled O.R. volunteering

The UK O.R. Society are the first to launch such a scheme (Pro Bono O.R.) and as such want to share their experience and good practice to encourage other Societies to set up similar schemes.

This month IFORS have promoted the scheme in their newsletter (page 18): and plan to publish summaries of several volunteer projects in the next few issues to show the benefit of such schemes.  IFORS also have a section on their website as well as on-line resources where further information about Pro Bono O.R. can be found.

The article covers how the scheme works, benefits for the organisations and the volunteers, spreading the word and a summary of a recent project with the Dachshunds Breed Council: Developing a tool to help dog breeders predict genetic risks.

For further information please either contact me directly on or visit the webpage.

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