Thursday, 26 March 2015

IFORS news: Pro bono O.R. Delivers Quick Response to Call Center Problem

Check out the latest edition of IFORS news that contains lots of great articles including a Pro Bono O.R. case study.

For the full edition click here

Monday, 23 March 2015

£2.8 million Operational Research project is to find ways to address the UK’s airport congestion

Original post from:

'A £2.8 million project is to find ways to address the UK’s airport congestion without relying solely on new airport building and expansion.

The OR-MASTER Programme Grant (Mathematical Models and Algorithms for Allocating Scarce Airport Resources) is to be led by a team at Lancaster University Management School, working with Computing, Science and Mathematics researchers at the University of Stirling.

The research has been funded by the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) in response to growing concerns over airport capacity, rising demand, and the impact of congestion on both the travelling public and the air transport industry.

The work will build on UK expertise in operational research to find the most efficient ways to schedule flights, developing and testing new models and solution algorithms that take into account all the factors involved in the allocation of flight ‘slots’: individual airport operations, networks of airports, airline operations, air traffic management systems, airport authorities, civil aviation authorities, airlines and the travelling public.

Project lead, Professor Konstantinos G. Zografos at Lancaster University Management School, said: “Existing approaches to airport slot allocation do not consider all the real-world complexity involved. Therefore, there is room to improve airport capacity utilization which will benefit airlines, airports and the travelling public.

“It will support policy makers and air transport decision makers here and overseas in getting to grips with airport congestion and in optimally allocating scarce airport resources. The air transport industry generally will benefit from acquiring a better understanding of the trade-off between  capacity utilization, and passenger and airline schedule  delays.

Professor Kevin Glazebrook from Lancaster University Management School said: “There is an international research effort to find solutions to a problem that’s high on the agenda for air transport decision and policy makers globally. With its reputation in Operational Research, the UK should be leading the way in meeting this challenge, and the new funding will help us do that.”

Professor Edmund Burke will lead the project at the University of Stirling, where he is Senior Deputy Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor. Professor Burke said: “It is recognised that as economies grow and as the need for air travel grows, greater capacity at airports is required. We are delighted to receive this grant, which will investigate – from a mathematical and computational perspective – whether capacity management is being realised as efficiently and effectively as possible.

“By incorporating the needs of a wide variety of stakeholders, including airspace operators, airports, airlines and travellers, we aim to produce a better solution not just for the UK, but for the wider international community.”

Over the six years of the project, OR-MASTER will involve close collaboration between Lancaster University, the University of Stirling, and a host of organisations internationally that will support the project providing real-world data, insights and expertise: National Air Traffic Services (NATS) in the UK; Eurocontrol (managing air traffic across Europe); Park Air Systems; KLM Air France; Zurich Airport and Athens International Airport; the research organisations linked to the national air navigation services for Italy and Spain (SICTA and CRIDA); SESAR (Single European Sky research body); the Airport Services Association; Goldair Handling; ACI Europe (Airports Council International); the HALA! SESAR network of leading researchers in Europe working in the area of Air Traffic Management automation; NEXTOR II (National Centre of Excellence for Aviation Operations Research); the MIT International Centre for Air Transport Research (MIT-ICAT) in the USA; and DLR, the German Airspace Research Centre. The project represents a strong partnership between academia, the air transport industry and policy makers.

At Lancaster OR-MASTER will be  undertaken  by  the Centre for Transport and Logistics (CENTRAL) Research (a newly established Research Centre in the Department of Management Science), and will link into existing Operational Research-related development initiatives and expertise at Lancaster University: the STOR-i doctoral training centre (one of the new generation of Centres for Doctoral Training supported by funding from the EPSRC) and the Lancaster Data Science Institute, which is generating new interdisciplinary approaches to address data-driven research challenges around the world. At the University of Stirling, OR-MASTER will be undertaken by the CHORDS (Computational Heuristics, Operational Research and Decision Support) research group.  Formed in 2011, it explores and develops computational search methodologies and models that emerge from studying the complexity and uncertainty of real world scheduling, optimisation and decision support problems. Members have strong connections with leading UK universities and internationally-renowned industrial partners.

OR-MASTER will create opportunities for 12 new researchers across both institutions to gain experience with international research centres and air transport industry organizations.EPSRC Chief Executive Professor Philip Nelson said:“Put simply, world-class projects like this help to make the UK the best place in the world to research, discover and innovate. This investment will fuel the UK’s technological progress, help address the challenges of today and tomorrow, and contribute to a strong economy.”'

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Free Seminar: How helping provide services to young people


Spring seminar



Date/time:       Thursday 23rd April 2015
 Registration from 14:30
 Talks 15.00 to 17:00 followed by wine and nibbles

Location:       Room 1.07
                        New Academic Building
                        London School of Economics
                        54 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London
                        WC2A 3LT

Cost:                FREE

There are many thousands of charities providing services to young people, aiming to ensure that no matter how vulnerable they are, or what risks and deprivations they face, they will have the chance to enjoy their childhoods and have a safe and happy future.

How can O.R. help these organisations? Is there anything special about the nature of the analytical or decision-making support needed when the service users are young people? What can we learn from the experiences of O.R. interventions?

This seminar will include a series of talks by O.R. professionals who are working pro-bono for charities supporting young people. The charities involved include The Childhood Trust, Elfrida Rathbone, and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The talks will be followed by a general discussion of special issues affecting young people.

To book your place please visit: Eventbrite: Services to Young People
Please note this event is free but places are limited.

For further information please contact:

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Pro Bono O.R. newsletter (issue 2)

The OR Society: Pro Bono O.R. newsletter - issue 2


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A flying start to 2015

Well what a busy start to the year 2015 has been.  Before you know it March has arrived, the sun is starting to shine and we are almost into spring.  In this second issue I want to tell you about all the latest news from Pro Bono O.R. including collaborating with Career Volunteer, what it’s like to be a volunteer and an update on the projects.

Volunteer Experience
Are you considering skilled volunteering? Wonder what it might be like? This guest blog from Alessandro Arbib tells you about his team’s experience of Pro Bono O.R. with RSPCA.

Have you got a story to tell?  If so I’d love to hear from you and would happily publish the article as a guest blog and promote via my social media channels.

Project updates
Since the start of the year we have completed 4 projects including London Quadrant Housing Trust and two with Elfrida Rathbone (keep an eye on the webpage for the case study slides).  We have had 15 new enquires and have started 3 new projects with Ethical Property Foundation and two with Diabetes UK.

Did you know that many projects are suitable for individuals, pairs or teams of volunteers?  Additionally if you would like to undertake a project but feel that you would benefit from the support of a mentor we can also offer that.  Here a volunteer comments on the benefit of having a mentor: ‘We really appreciate the support you have given us over the course of the project. I would never have had the confidence to embark on this if you had not agreed to be a mentor’.

I am delighted to announce that Pro Bono O.R. will be working with Career Volunteer.

Career Volunteer works with charities and social enterprises around the world to assist with trustee recruitment, skilled volunteers and Board members through corporate volunteering, employee engagement, skilled volunteering programmes and executive search.

Career Volunteer works with skilled volunteers - people with strong skill sets looking to add to their careers through volunteering. Their aim is to make skilled volunteering or being a trustee a normal part of working life for the majority of people; to unleash their skills in a way that builds capacity and resources for charities worldwide. 

They are keen to see more large companies provide structured time and support for their emerging leaders to engage in supporting charities as trustees and skilled volunteers through their CSR, corporate social responsibility programmes and their leadership development programmes, seeing this as good for everyone concerned. 

Career Volunteer's vision to unleash the talents and skills in the corporate and public sector for the benefit of charities and social enterprises has great synergy with Pro Bono O.R., whose aim is to use skilled volunteering to help third sector organisations, give volunteers opportunities to develop their knowledge and skills and to increase the awareness of Operational Research.

Working together will enable Pro Bono O.R. to carry out more projects by being able to advertise projects through the Career Volunteer website and therefore having a wider pool of volunteers who are able to apply for projects.

I am really excited by this collaboration and look forward to seeing how we can provide mutual support for one another; ultimately providing benefit to the third sector and providing more opportunities for skilled volunteering.

To see more about Career Volunteer and the types of volunteer roles they are currently recruiting for please visit their website.

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

Thank you for your support of Pro Bono O.R.

Best wishes

Felicity McLeister

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

O.R. improves school choice in Boston

Great article from Laura McLay discussing how a student project led to the Boston school board reforming the way parents were able to choose schools.

Peng won the Doing Good with Good O.R. award help by INFORMS with his project 'Guiding school choice reform through novel applications of Operational Research'

To read the article in full please visit PunkRockOR

Monday, 2 March 2015

Volunteering with the RSPCA: O.R., canine welfare and team building!

Thank you to Alessandro Arbib who has written this guest blog.  Alessandro and his team volunteered to carry out a Pro Bono O.R. project with the RSPCA.  Here he tells us a bit about the project and the experience of being a Pro Bono O.R. volunteer. 

It’s a dog's life: when O.R. meets canine welfare

The breeding, ownership and welfare of dogs in the UK is a complex social policy area. Without an understanding of the dog population and how it is stratified, it is difficult to propose meaningful welfare policies. To help with this, three Operational Researchers and an engineer from DECC have worked with RSPCA and DogED to develop a stock and flow model of the UK dog population.

Although there has been research into the size of the dog population, nobody has pulled all this together into a single model that everyone can use to help focus priority issues. As a consequence, different stakeholders have varying, and sometimes conflicting, views of how many dogs there are and their needs. Without a consensus understanding of the population and how it is stratified, it is difficult to propose meaningful welfare improvement policies.

In order to collect the relevant data and develop a useful model the RSPCA - UK’s leading animal welfare charity - and DogED - a social enterprise applying System Thinking to canine welfare - started a project with a group of three Operational Researchers and one engineer from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), namely me and my team.

We accepted the project with great enthusiasm: we liked the idea of applying OR techniques in a Pro Bono context and of working on something different to the daily energy-related projects at the department. Our work included building a model which evaluates the stocks and flows of dogs within the UK and predicts the population changes over time.

Figure 1: Stock and flow diagram developed with Vensim

It involved pulling in data from a large number of journal papers and reports (we reviewed more than 50 data sources) and attempting to corroborate these against each other, whilst also working to identify gaps in existing knowledge. Needless to say, this was no mean feat – if you ask 10 people what a “stray” dog is, you’ll get 10 different answers!

At the start of the project we were a brand new team, having worked together for less than three months. Therefore, the project was a great opportunity to get to know each other outside of the work environment and to develop a strong team spirit. We made the most of fortnightly working lunches  and spent some time together during weekends; the relaxed environment and our enthusiasm for the project always made the work very productive and fun.

Talking about fun, the RSPCA gave us the fabulous opportunity to spend a day at the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, one of the biggest animal welfare centres in the UK. There, we were treated to a tour of the home by the director of operations and got to see the efforts that go into looking after so many animals simultaneously. It was a great experience and at the end of the day we were all considering bringing home a dog or a cat with us!

Figure 2: our visit to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home

However, it was not only leisure time; we also worked hard to deliver the project and the experience was both interesting and fruitful. The work matched our skill set closely and we all learnt something from it: we deepened our knowledge in system dynamics and applied it on a real problem, worked with different roles and in different contexts and, above all, learnt a lot about dogs and their welfare.

At the end of the project we delivered a comprehensive literature review and a working stock and flow model prototype. We also identified many data and evidence gaps that unfortunately mean the model results are not yet robust enough to inform policy decisions. We therefore provided some recommendations on how to close these gaps in the future. Based on this work, the client is now in a position to argue the case for better data collection to inform policy making.

All in all the experience was fulfilling and we would recommend it to all OR practitioners. The work was interesting and fun and our client was always appreciative and respectful of our time constraints; at the end it was very satisfactory to see that our work has been useful for a worthy project.

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