Community-Based Operations Research
Decision Modeling for Local Impact and Diverse Populations
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Community-based operations research (CBOR) is the use of analytical methods with government and organizations in the formal and informal non-profit sector to improve the lives of individuals and communities. The beneficiaries of these methods tend to be localized, as well as members of disadvantaged and underserved groups. Examples of problems amenable to CBOR include: design of public infrastructure such as parks and public art; location of facilities such as homeless shelters or elder care facilities; social interventions such as public health initiatives or anti-violence programs, and improved processes such as grants management or human service provision, among many others. Solutions to these problems may be difficult and/or controversial due to conflicting notions of fairness, social impacts or social norms, or because of stigmatized or marginalized populations.
CBOR applications address the needs of organizations working for the public good which typically have limited exposure to operations research/management science. Thus, CBOR extends traditional OR/MS practice to allow for ‘solutions’ that consist of identification and formulation of decision problems, linkages between model-based prescriptions and social impacts relevant to providers and policy-makers, and a diversity of solution methods. This domain was first discussed in a chapter in Tutorials in Operations Research 2007 - OR Tools and Applications: Glimpses of Future Technologies (INFORMS 2007) by Johnson and Smilowitz and subsequently in an article that appeared in the February 2008 issue of OR/MS Today.
Community-based operations research is not primarily a new methodology or theory – its antecedents include community operational research, public-sector operations research and problem structuring methods. Instead, CBOR is a framework for applications of models and methods to address problems with common characteristics. The relevant analytical tools for CBOR come primarily from the decision sciences; these tools are intended to help individuals and organizations make better choices regarding strategies to design, services to deliver, facilities to locate, infrastructure to design, and so on. CBOR applications are drawn from disciplines with public-sector applications, including public policy, public management, urban and regional planning, housing and community development, urban affairs, human services, public health and gerontology.
The research in this book is intended to be normative (defined by stylized models of the real world) and prescriptive (what ought to be done) in nature. However, other research perspectives, defined by descriptive and positive approaches traditionally used in the social sciences are appropriate as well. It is hoped that this book will inspire researchers and practitioners to develop new models and methods, or adapt existing ones, in order that public-focused organizations may better fulfill their missions, and for individuals and communities to develop to their fullest potential.
"The topic of this book is timely. The public sector is ready more than ever to implement Operations Research and Analytics methodologies and derive substantial benefits. While this book looks specifically at OR in local communities, this is the case across the local and federal sectors – in the US and in other countries. In the past few years we have observed a rise in applying analytical methods to challenges faced by public sector agencies. Moreover, these entities are actively looking today to implement new business processes which are analytically based. As government and non-profit organizations gather more high-quality data and make it available for analysts and the public, they are increasingly well-positioned to apply descriptive methods (getting insight from the data), predictive methods (forecasting outcome based on the data) and prescriptive methods (determining best course of action). The contributions in this volume provide welcome examples of using real-world data to design policies and practices that generate tangible improvements in the quality of life of individuals and communities."
Rina Schneur, PhD, President, Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences and Director, Verizon
"This is an original book that demonstrates with clarity and passion that Operations Research can be successfully applied to a range of issues affecting public sector institutions, voluntary organizations and community groups. The authors build on the traditional strengths of US Operations Research (applied, quantitative modeling and analytic techniques) and show how they can be of significant value in improving the lives of disadvantaged and underserved sections of the community. This is an important contribution to the renewed relevance of OR in a changing America."
Prof. Gerald Midgley, Centre for Systems Studies, Business School, University of Hull, UK