The International Conference on Operational Research for Development (ICORD) was held at the Université Laval, Québec, Canada just prior to the IFORS Triennial Meeting from June 13 to 14. The conference provided a highly focused and collaborative forum for scholars and practitioners from all continents to exchange ideas, techniques, and insights on a wide range of subjects at the intersection of OR and Development.
The conference format and intimate size allowed for a high degree of exposure and feedback for each submitted paper. In place of parallel sessions, each work was presented to the entire conference delegation, and received thoughtful feedback from assigned reviewers.
The majority of presentations dealt with successful applied projects implemented by governments, NGOs, or industry partners around the world, with primary emphasis on Latin America, Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia. The projects touched on topics such as urban transportation, humanitarian logistics, microfinance, urban planning, ambulance location, and sustainability metrics.
A number of recurring themes and challenges emerged that spanned geographies, application areas, and methodologies. How should OR practitioners engage institutions and decision-makers with technical limitations or who are unfamiliar with the systematic modeling and problem-solving employed in the field? How can OR models capture and bring to the surface the tradeoffs between the goals and needs of different stakeholders? How robust and generalizable are models when implemented in practice or in slightly different contexts? While these questions are perhaps universal to the OR discipline, it was clear that they are especially relevant in the context of development. The presentations provided excellent expositions on how attendees have navigated these questions, in some cases with tremendous success.
A case in point is the invited speech Applied OR to Support Humanitarian Operations in Developing Countries by Marie-Ève Rancourt of HEC Montreal. She walked attendees through a field-based logistics project with the UN Humanitarian Response Depot in East Africa. Different research projects related to logistics decision planning for mitigating famines and diseases brought about by seasonal draughts, weather patterns and armed conflicts were presented as follows: relief item prepositioning (Uganda), food aid distribution (Kenya) and community healthcare services (Liberia). The project recommendations, rooted on OR tools such as optimization, simulation, mathematical programming and statistical analysis, were successfully implemented by the UNHRD, resulting in quicker delivery times and cumulative savings in millions of dollars.
In humanitarian logistics, two papers on Drone Fleet Optimization Model for Distribution of Relief Items Under Emergency Conditions in Developing Countries (Austria) and Bi-Objective Optimization for Post-Disaster Humanitarian Logistics (Chile) were presented.
On the other hand, the keynote address of Carlos Gonzalez-Calderon on The Impacts of Congestion on Supply Chains: Recent Results from an Inter-American Development Bank Initiative showed the huge economic impact of congestion on urban freight logistics costs. The methodology used for the measurement, designed for applicability, comparability, practicality, and robustness, were piloted in the three Latin American cities of Barranquilla, Colombia, Santiago and Sao Paolo for future implementation in other places.
Understandably, contributions from CIRRELT covered logistics areas important for developing countries such as: Traffic And City: How To Plan For Better Distribution, Using OR Tools To Plan A Fair Distribution Network and Distribution and Development Issues in City Logistics. From Brazil, an exhaustive presentation on applications in freight distribution and emergency medical services was discussed.
Environmental issues were also tackled in three papers, namely Optimising Environmental Water Release Decisions (Australia) and Snow Cover Mapping from Satellite Data by Artificial Neural Networks (Turkey) and An Assessment of Green Practices in the Indian Manufactring Sector (India).
Performance Assessment and Definition of Improvement Paths towards the Double-Bottom Line of Microfinance Institutions: An Application to the Mc² Network in Cameroon discussed the use of Data Envelopment Analysis (DEA) to improve the performance of village banks involved in microfinance activities. A Goal Programming Approach to the Optimal Resettlement of Informal Settler Families (ISF) described the development and implementation of a goal programming Excel-based tool for use by implementers of resettlement programs in the Philippines.
A host of other applications – among them, in the health and education areas – were presented. The conference was certainly an excellent forum for networking and socializing. Most attendees were on a first-name basis by the end of the first day. The organizing committee arranged an excellent walking tour of Quebec City’s historic district and an impressive final dinner.
The community attending this wonderful event expresses its gratitude to IFORS, CIRRELT at Universite Laval, the EURO Working Group on OR for Development, and, especially to the ICORD 2017 Organizing Committee for their tremendous work in convening a group of OR researchers and practitioners who are having an exciting impact on development through the OR profession.