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Custom and Practice Author(s): Jonathan Rosenhead Reviewed work(s): Source: The Journal of the Operational Research Society,

Vol. 37, No. 4 (Apr., 1986), pp. 335343 Published by: Palgrave Macmillan Journals on behalf of the Operational Research Society Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2582561 . Accessed: 07/03/2013 06:28
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J. OpI Res. Soc. Vol. 37, No. 4, pp. 335-343, 1986

Printedin GreatBritain.All rightsreserved

0160-5682/86 $3.00+ 0.00 ? 1986Operational Research Copyright SocietyLtd

Custom and Practice


JONATHAN ROSENHEAD
Inaugural Address as President of the Operational Research Society, Society for Long-Range Planning, London, 15th January 1986

I stand here today as a result of a long series of accidents, mistakes and misjudgements. Not all of them have been mine. However, this is not the occasion for recriminations, and I, for one, plan to make the most of what is still to come. Nevertheless, I will try not to be bland. Nobody, I am sure, thinks that I was elected President to be statesperson-like. Other people can do that better. So I will do my best to be forthright and in case anyone should feel provoked, I have waived my right to a respectful post-Address silence. Please feel free to start an argument immediately with luck it could last at least two years. It is customary for those who have been elected to any post to claim a mandate for their proposed changes (though this is harder for those elected unopposed). Naturally I do so too the more so since I came out ahead of not one but two competitors for the post of President. However, when I have rehearsed this claim during my year as President Elect, a surprising number of people have revealed themselves as hyper-democrats. "Split votes", they have murmured, or "minority rule". To which one response might be to point out that on this argument, the current Prime Minister's authority would be highly suspect. On reflection, however, I prefer to take a less exposed position, namely that my mandate is, at any rate, better than anyone else's. You will notice that I have already broken one of the great Unwritten Rules, which is "Keep politics out of operational research". (The other rules are "Keep politics out of sport", and "Don't bring religion into politics".) I intend to continue the trespass during the rest of this Address. Not because I wish to shock, but because it can't be helped. Politics is already there within O.R., and only a limited number of worthwhile statements about the practice and the future of operational research can be made without touching on the political domain. Indeed, to talk, write and act as if there were no politics in operational research is itself a distinctly political posture. These statements must stand for the moment as assertions. The justification will be provided in what follows. The subject of this Address, Custom and Practice, covers the questions of who O.R. works for ('custom'), as well as what we do and how we do it ('practice'). These were, by and large, the issues raised in the statement with which I offered myself for election. Since this must be the basis for my claim to a mandate, it may be helpful to quote a key section of it here. Thus: "If elected, I would regard this as a mandate for initiatives to find a more significant social role for operational research. We need to expand the range of O.R.'s clients it is not only business, military and government who have problems of decision-making under uncertainty. We need to make the Society more of a forum for the profession to question its assumptions and methodology, which currently exclude it from the larger and messier problems". This passage alludes to the three topics I wish to discuss here, namely who O.R.'s 'customers' are, how we go about helping them, and with what sort of problems. I will take them in sequence, though in reality the three issues are intermeshed. I should also stress that the thoughts expressed here are preliminary and provisional. Any defects I intend to blame on the general paucity and poverty of O.R. discussion on these issues. O.R 's CUSTOMERS There really is no appropriate generic word to describe the people or groups who give operational researchers work to do. Any particular word presupposes a particular form of relationship. So 'customer' implies a principally financial relation of buying and selling a service; 'client' appears to arrogate to O.R. a role of custodian of professional expertise which the client 335

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Journal of the Operational Research Society Vol. 37, No. 4 has neither knowledge nor resources to question; 'patron' conveys the notion of patrician unconcern for the products of operational research; while 'sponsor' suggests someone whose function is only to introduce O.R. to its area of opportunity. Traces of each of these roles can indeed be found, but none of them, either separately or together, is entirely adequate. For they all omit the essential element of mutual interaction in the actual process of problem elucidation or decision-making. If in what follows I use the words 'client' and 'customer', it is for simplicity, and because (however regrettably) these aspects are perhaps the dominant ones in current O.R. practice. Who are O.R.'s customers? Almost exclusively they have been the managements of formally established and legally entrenched organizations disposing of substantial resources (capital, equipment, buildings, supplies), including the labour power of their employees. Or, as the O.R. Society definition puts it, "large systems of men, machines, materials and money". This comes down to big business, public utilities, the military and central government departments, with a thin scatter of local governments and health and other public authorities. Isn't that everybody? Well, it certainly isn't "all human life", as one of our Sunday papers used to pride itself on presenting. What many people think is most important about being alive seems to disappear down the cracks between these mega-organizations. It isn't only sex and love which have no place in the objectives and formal operations of these organizations. Excluded also are comradeship, the satisfaction of skill, warm human relations, caring for one another. Since these considerations are not on the organizational agenda, they are not among the concerns addressed by operational research studies. Perhaps this seems rather far-fetched. Who would want operational research trampling around in delicate areas like that, and spoiling them? But of course we do trample around in these areas, because human life doesn't stop short outside the factory gate, or wait on the other side of the office security door because it hasn't been issued with the right plastic card. It is simply that these real human interests are not represented among the concerns of the management of these organizations, so that operational research's impact on them is accidental and unconsidered. Worse still, it can be argued (although I will not do so in detail here) that the pursuit of what are the concerns of management all too often conflicts with the maintenance and enhancement of these essential human qualities. This means that the life-denying characteristics of much operational research activity are not accidental but systematic. To be concrete, consider the case of health. We have organizations concerned with the care of the sick, and some operational researchers work for them. Many people care about health- and health care-certainly the sick and their families, a fair number of doctors, probably a high proportion of nurses. But operational research works for the management of the organizations which deliver health care. The result is that the concerns which it predominantly addresses are not to do with health or sickness as such, but with the productivity of health service resources, or simply with how to save money. Yet strategies for cost reduction or for throughput increases are of their nature likely to have negative consequences for the quality (as distinct from the quantity) of care, and to do violence to relationships between patient and nurse, between nurse and nurse, between patient and family. This is not to say that health service managers are heartless villains, or dessicated calculating machines. Indeed, some of my best friends are health service managers! On the average, their commitment to the improvement of health is, I believe, not inferior, say, to that of medical practitioners. There is no point in blaming them, nor indeed the often dedicated O.R. workers in the health field. They are constrained not by their own intentions, but by the organizational role which is available to them. How could it be different?An effort of imagination is required, for operational research cannot be conceived in isolation from an organizational customer. How, for example, can O.R. have an input to preventative (as opposed to curative) health care in the virtual absence of relevant agencies? But some alternative organizations do exist. There is the Patients Association, for example, which aims to provide a collective voice for patients, independent of government, the health professions and the drug companies, and to protect the interests of patients generally. There are Community Health Councils, with limited statutory rights, but considerable legitimacy to represent their local populations on health issues. Some local authorities are taking such initiatives 336

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J. Rosenhead Custom and Practice as the formation of health strategy groups and commissions on food and nutrition. These are all bodies which try to look after the interests of those with actual or potential health needs. In areas other than health, we can also find groups located outside the power structure. Half a generation ago, Steve Cook listed consumer groups, political parties, charities, residents associations ... as among potential sponsors of O.R. Operational research for them is still notable for its almost complete absence. There are a number of good reasons for this selectivity of O.R. activity. (There are also some bad ones.) Principal among them is that these organizations do not dispose of enough resources to employ operational research, or enough political clout to achieve implementation of any recommendations. Rather than tackle this argument head on though I believe it to be essentially cyclical let us turn instead to another area where it certainly won't hold water: the trade unions. The trade unions have large resources (though orders of magnitude less than those of employing organizations). They represent certain interests of their members which are generally inimical to those represented by management. (These concerns of trade unions are not limited to wage bargaining, but also embrace skill content, the working environment and work hazards.) They have at various times achieved very considerable effectiveness in pursuing some of those interests, to the extent that they have been represented as holding the nation to ransom. Why has almost no O.R. been done for unions? The National Coal Board Operational Research Executive is one of the largest and most sophisticated units in Britain. Where is the National Union of Mineworkers' O.R. group? As is well known, it takes two to tango. O.R. workers have not as yet been deluged with requests from the labour movement for their technical services. But, then, neither were the evangelizing proponents of O.R. who, in the 1940s and 1950s, had to persuade a sceptical managementthat there were problems for which they could be useful. The identification of trade union problems which O.R. could help with, services which O.R. could provide, will necessarily be a mutual one. The process of mutuality is unlikely to start without initiatives from O.R. practitioners. Indeed it will require entrepreneurship, and a willingness to take intellectual and career risks. O.R.'s neglect of a very substantial clientele is not, of course, simply an oversight. One can suspect that there is a fear of upsetting our more powerful and established clientele, the managers. But economists, accountants, lawyers and others work for trade unions without apparently bringing all their colleagues down in penury. Perhaps part of the reason for the selectivity is a positive alignment by many O.R. workers, especially the more senior ones, with the interests of management and those of capital in opposition to those of the organized work force. Whatever the reason, it is undoubtedly a very sensitive area. This was borne in on me with salutary force when I organized a stream of papers at an Operational Research Society Annual Conference in the late 1970s. The speakers eventually included two trade unionists not unreasonably, as the theme of the stream was 'participation'. But as the shape of my stream began to emerge, I was taken on one side by the chairperson of the programme committee, who urged on me, with some persistence, the importance of 'balance'. There were, in fact, other disreputable individuals on my speakers list for example, an academic sociologist. But there was also a professor of computing. There was a representative of community groups campaigning over the redevelopment of London's Docklands, but paired with a local government urban planner working on that development project. And there was one industrial manager, and two industrial O.R. workers reporting on projects carried out for management. Why did this assemblage threaten 'balance'? I slowly came to see that the inclusion of any speaker of a radical political perspective, any trade union representative was a threat to the stability of a balance, which had presumably been locked in one extreme position for so long that its right pan had stuck to the table. For this 'balance' had not been threatened by the total exclusion of trade union or other grass-roots viewpoints from the other four conference streams or indeed by their virtual absence from the 18 preceding conferences. This pro-management emphasis within O.R. practice and culture is by no means its only bias. Again, let me-illustrate with an anecdote. Some years ago, I wrote a paper on ways of helping my then 14-year-old step-daughter on the educational subject choices which confronted her. The paper was accepted for publication in a pre-eminent operational research journal; but when the proofs arrived from the printers, I found that 'she' had everywhere been replaced by 'he'. 337

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Journal of the Operational Research Society Vol. 37, No. 4 Enquiry revealed that this was not the aberration of some dazed proof-reader. It was a deliberate act by the editor, in compliance with the house style, which required all decision-makers to be male. Reality did eventually reassert itself, and I could once more refer to Sarah as 'she' but only by agreeing to the insertion of a footnote explaining that very similar methods would work for a boy. It would be reassuring to laugh off this incident as amusing, harmless and atypical, and certainly not reflecting any institutionalized sexism. If I were to take this line, I hope I would be supported in it by all the O.R. Society's previous Presidents by Roy and Brian, by George and Mike and Alec, by Rolfe and Keith and Stafford and Bill, by Roger and George and Pat and John and Maurice, and by William and Owen. Perhaps I should clarify that Pat is short for Patrick. Behind the details of such stories, however, lies the reality that O.R. practice, like any other organized social activity, operates with a range of often unarticulated assumptions. So far I have only been concerned with the assumptions which are made about feasible clients, though I will come to some of the other assumptions shortly. What it is worth stressing at this point is that these assumptions do not drop from the sky. They did not just happen, so, like it or not, they cannot simply be unthought. To point out the peculiar limitations which O.R., largely unthinkingly, accepts is not to say that we could make it different just by wanting to. But awareness of the partiality of our practice is at least a necessary first step in motivating us to look for viable alternatives. O.R.'s METHODS The next step, perhaps, is to consider whether, if operational researchers were to work with and for other sorts of organizations, we would know how to help. O.R.'s customers have been drawn from a narrow, though powerful, segment of society. Are the methods and tools we have developed appropriate for other possible clients? A decade and a half ago, Russ Ackoff held that they were not. "The methods, techniques and tools of problem solving that have been developed in the Management Sciences", he wrote, "apply primarily to what might be called 'uninodal homogeneous organizations"' by which he meant a pyramidal organization with a hierarchial structure, which has greater control of its members than its members have over it. This, of course, is an accurate description of just those types of organizations for and in which O.R. has principally been developed. The evolved forms of tools reflect the circumstances of their use. The shape and structure of an axe, for example, take account of the physiology of the wielder, the physics of the object to be split, and the technology of axe manufacture. This interdependence of tool and environment is characteristic of all significant technologies. Encapsulated in any technology, if we have the mind, we can discover a frozen picture of the economics, property and working relations, balance of forces between interest groups indeed, of the entire mode of production which attended its inception and development. Try this out in the case of the motor car, for example. Or for those with a more historical bent, consider the ousting of the spinning jenny by the self-acting mule in early 19th century cotton manufacture. Operational research is committed, not to the unravelling of knowledge about the universe, but to practical impact on the functioning of organized human activities. Evidently, then, it is best considered as a technology rather than as a science. So we should not be surprised that the particular circumstances of O.R.'s employment have shaped the forms of its tools, and in so doing have limited the scope of their use. Yet many O.R. people do resist this perception, asserting for our subject both timelessness and universality claims which are dubious even for science, but preposterous for technology. What, for O.R., are the shaping features in the dynamics of the organizations for which O.R. has worked? We can identify them from my earlier Ackoff quotation. A homogeneous organization is one with a concern to control those who live or work within it. A uninodal organization is one with a high degree of centralization. Taking the analysis one step further, we can follow Weber in observing that the bureaucratic organization (for that is what we are describing) is concerned to dehumanize working relations, to reduce, though it cannot eliminate, the scope for discretion or judgement. We can call this a tendency towards deskilling. 338

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J. Rosenhead Custom and Practice These three features deskilling, centralization, control are certainly not independent of each other, nor are they autonomous, disembodied urges. They have joint roots in the form of economic organization of our society. But this is not the place for such a discussion. The purpose of pointing out these aspects of corporate dynamics is rather to highlight how well they are mirrored by both the tools and the methods of O.R., indeed by its 'problematique'. Deskilling, for example, can be seen as implicit both in the entire project of replacing judgement by quantification, and more directly in the thrust to extend the range of decisions which, in Simon's term, are 'programmable'. Operational research here follows the imperative enunciated by Henry Ford to concentrate thinking in the "mental power-plant". So deskilling implies a centralization both of information and of conceptual work. Centralization is evident too in O.R.'s commitment to 'the problem' and 'the solution' (as if there were only one of each), and to discovery of the decision-maker whose organizational fiefdom extends over the relevant variables. Virtuous optimization (with its complementary sin of suboptimization) implies in this densely connected world a holistic approach which seeks to enlarge the boundaries of that problem to the maximum. Indeed, if there is no decision-maker with the requisite authority, we are liable to demand that one be invented. The requirement for an authoritative decision-maker rests on his (or her) ability to implement O.R. recommendations, that is to control the processes and people who make up his (or her) segment of the organization. 'Control' features extensively in O.R.'s vocabulary production control, stock control, financial control. Indeed, it can be argued that those optimizing techniques which predominate in our tool-kit themselves carry a control implication. For does not the concept of target, of optimal point of aim, imply also a mechanism for achieving it? If there is just one best way (and we experts have found it), it would be foolish not to restrain deviations from it. These are generalizations, to which there are, of course, exceptions in O.R. practice. The gloom is not impenetrable. Indeed, there are multiple sources of fitful illumination. But in so far as operational research operates with a dominant problematique, it is of the variety-reducing and authoritarian character sketched in above. Furthermore, this character is not such as to appeal to operational research's neglected alternative clientele. The unholy trinity of deskilling, centralization and control could scarcely be attractive to grass roots organizations trying to improve their members' leverage over their own lives. Is that an impossible dream? Perhaps the world is now so complex and interconnected-that, in any case, the techniques and methods required to take coherent and purposeful decisions are necessarily beyond the comprehension of most people. If so, participation is a futile and utopian dream and so is meaningful democracy. Certainly, if the allocation of social resources requires the deployment of mixed-integer linear programming, the woman on the Clapham omnibus will not quite see how to get involved. But the Byzantine incomprehensibility of much of O.R.'s accumulation of technique is in good measure our own fault or at least the consequence of our adopted problematique. For both the elimination of skill and judgement and the centralization of decision contribute massively to the complexity of the problems to which O.R.'s techniques purport to find solutions. Put another way, if we posit initially a decision process rudimentary in its simplicity, the techniques which feed into that process must be grotesquely complexified. If, however, we were to accept and indeed welcome a more lively, complex and elaborate social process of decision-making, then the technical contributions to it could be correspondingly simpler. The aim need not be, effectively, to replace judgement by analysis wherever possible. There is an alternative aspiration to assist judgement by analysis whenever necessary. Such a revised posture, and the simpler analytic methods which it would make possible, is a prerequisite if O.R. is to provide useful services for its potential alternative clientele. There is no need here to overstress the sophistication of management. But they are relatively more able, by virtue of education, experience and culture, to digest and manipulate abstract or quantified argument than are those whose lives, not infrequently, are oppressed by the organizations for which O.R. currently works. O.R's methodology, then, will need to be far more transparent. It will also need to change in other respects, because the problems confronting O.R's alternative clientele are different in kind. One major distinction is in these organizations' lack of even the semblance of unilateral power. 339

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Journal of the Operational Research Society Vol. 37, No. 4 The principal factors through which the problem situations confronting them will be either resolved or intensified are typically outside their direct control. Indeed, these factors may well be under the control of one or more of O.R.'s current clients. The analysis of strategies in a conflict situation is more likely than are resource allocation methods to be helpful, when the main resource allocation will in fact be conducted in somebody else's interests. The alternative client, disposing of few tangible resources, has in general developed no extended internal managerial hierarchy. Furthermore, there is in many cases an ideological commitment to democratic procedures, with ultimate power clearly located at the base. So methods which assume the existence of abstract objectives for the entire group (to be provided by its leader), or which by high technicality exclude all except at most a tiny cell of internal 'experts', are non-starters. Often the group will have diverse interests within it, which cannot even in principle be resolved by appeal to the 'corporate interest', handily embodied in the chief executive. So any methods must facilitate the resolution of internal conflict by discussion and debate, as well as the clarification of external conflict. Given the relative weakness of this alternative clientele, the group will often be able to further its aims only through forming coalitions with others; the result is a further expansion of the range of world views and interests which must be accommodated by any viable method. Lastly, the group will itself in many cases be ill-defined. What its members want, even who its members are, may be unclear initially, or may shift over time. One factor in such changes can be the judgement/analysis process itself, as participants begin to perceive both the limits and the fuller extent of what they can hope to achieve. So analysis will be an iterative, indeed a developmental process. The definition of what exactly 'the problem' is may well not be articulated until the end of this process (if there is one). Evidently O.R.'s alternative clientele is beset by 'wicked' problems, whereas O.R.'s forte has been in the solution of 'tame', well-formulated problems. In the words of Rittel and Webber, "the methods of Operations Research... become operational, however, only after the most important decisions have already been made, i.e. after the [wicked] problem has already been tamed". Evidently also, then, operational research needs an alternative methodology and tool-bag if it is to be effective in helping its potential alternative clients with their problems. The methods which put a person on the moon, for example, are less than helpful in resolving the problems of Britain's crumbling inner-city ghettos. What would such an alternative methodology and set of tools be like? We may get some useful ideas towards answering this question by simply taking the dominant characteristics of O.R.'s current practice, and standing them on their heads. Instead of deskilling/ centralization/control, could we have a methodology founded on reskilling/decentralization/ liberation? What would this mean? 'Deskilling' is a process by which craft elements of people's mental or manual work are removed from their control. Tasks in which they formerly exercised a measure of discretion are performed instead by automatic machinery or by a computer. What is left behind may be those aspects of work as yet too complex for automation or programming in which case, the worker is expected to perform these 'creative' tasks at a greatly accelerated rate. Or the work left over may consist of almost accidental task fragments which cannot at present be accommodated economically in the automatic sequence. The human machine is assigned these residual operations for repetitive, monotonous and meaningless execution. 'Reskilling' is not merely resistance to this process. After all, much of the labour which is removed by automation is also wearisome and repetitive, and the social or personal value of mental juggling which can be done more effectively by computer is at least questionable. Reskilling rather is a process which seeks to remove wearisome repetition while preserving or enhancing discretion. This can be achieved by providing material and information in such a way that workers, individually or collectively, are able to exercise more complex control over their own work. The 'surplus' time which automation or programming makes available need not be exploited to intensify the rate of work of a declining labour force. It can be employed instead to enable those who do the work to gain and exercise new and more sophisticated skills in the management of their own labour process. This argument has been expressed in terms of the work which people do for paid employment. But it applies equally to the operations of voluntary and vocational organizations. Reskilling here concerns the ability of members to formulate and pursue more effective strategies (but without 340

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J. Rosenhead Custom and Practice undermining the collective cohesion which is their strength). Under conditions of complexity and uncertainty this can only be achieved by the availability of relevant information and of appropriate methods for structuring it. Indeed, reskilling at work and outside are mutually supportive: first, because those who have learned that there is no need for decisions to be taken for them and over them in one aspect of their lives are less likely to accept it in others; and second, because the methods of information structuring will have common features, enabling them to be 'borrowed' across the factory or office wall. Evidently, then, the concept of reskilling implies major revisions in the ways in which people work together. Indeed, the differences are so significant that the notion of 'decentralization' is scarcely an adequate description. Decentralization carries with it the idea of a central authority which is devolved to the periphery, typically so as to achieve greater responsiveness or improved efficiency. But such voluntary dispersal of powers can as easily be revoked-their local exercise is provisional, by kind permission, and only for so long as they are employed in a manner consistent with central objectives. By contrast, reskilling implies a relocation of authority. Those who were previously the objects of control or of study are now the subjects also. That is, they achieve greater power over their own operations. If taken to its logical conclusion, the result would be the abolition of management as we know it (a force imposed on the members of an organization), or rather its subsumption into the process of self-management. Of course there is no need as yet to rush shouting to the defence of a management hierarchy in peril of their jobs. These are, after all, only ideas. The practice in our major social institutions is indeed all the other way. What has been attempted here is a description of an alternative model, of how life might be organized if work satisfaction were regarded as an overriding principle, rather than one of behavioural manipulation. In work organizations (and many others), this mode of operation is largely driven out into oppositional counter-systems, where its scope and resources are extremely limited. The process of extending the regime of self-management, of narrowing the boundaries within which people are controlled to pursue interests not their own, can legitimately be described as liberation. I have posed reskilling, decentralization and liberation as characteristics of a possible alternative O.R. practice, with its own distinctive methods and tools. If it could exist, it would strengthen the effectiveness of the embryonic counter-systems, and extend their power to wrest more control over the social and work processes they are contesting. In this way, the possession of appropriate tools expands their own scope of application, by augmenting the power of those who wield them. Counter-organizations which currently linger on the margins would need to be acknowledged. Those which are already recognized would need to be reckoned with. It is not that such tools possess power of their own it is that they can realize the potential power which already exists but has been rendered ineffective through disorganization, non-coordination or lack of consciousness. But could such tools and methods exist? The answer is not only that they could exist, but that they do exist and British operational research, broadly defined, has played a disproportionate role is developing them. They are the 'softer' approaches, some of which have been discussed at recent conferences on 'Systems and O.R.' they include strategic choice (and AIDA), soft systems methodology, cognitive mapping, hypergames and analysis of options. There have been related developments in France, and in the United States. None of them is a panacea. Each looks at one type of problem, or certain aspects of problems. None is, I would suggest, a pure form of the alternative methodology, for all have developed and needed to survive within a hostile environment. What exists is the result of a combination of unnatural selection, and of defensive adaptation. Nevertheless, as a corpus, they indicate the transparent, conflict-accepting, structuring potential of alternative O.R. These formalized alternative O.R. methods have not, of course, sprung up through working on the problems of any alternative clientele. They, as we have seen, have remained largely unencumbered by analytic help. No, the elements of an alternative methodology, more appropriate for working with -'multi-nodal, heterogeneous organizations', have been developed working with and for operational research's regular customers. What am I saying? Have I not, in one medium-length sentence almost devoid of subordinate clauses, undermined my whole case? The answer is 'No', or I would not-have composed it. I have 341

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Journal of the Operational Research Society Vol. 37, No. 4 described the tendency towards deskilling, centralization and control which pervades conventionally structured organizations, and which is faithfully mirrored in O.R.'s conventional tools and methods. But the pervasion is not uniform. It is intense at 'shop-floor' level, and indeed at front-line and middle-management levels-for the problem of controlling the workers is only marginally more intractable than that of controlling the controllers. At higher levels, where more strategic questions must be decided, the neat bureaucratic lines of command break down. It is necessary to assess information from both quantitative and non-quantitative sources, provided out of a range of expertises resistant to hierarchical ordering. And the issues which are thrown up will be debated and reshaped from a variety of different perspectives, which contend to explain what is happening and to guide action. It is necessary to pay especial attention to the threats and opportunities posed by uncontrollable elements; the situation must be thought through from the perspectives of these external agencies, so as to assess the scope for collaborative or conflictual activity. In other words there are considerable similarities between strategic decision-making in conventional organizations, and the predicament of O.R.'s potential alternative clientele. Both confront essentially 'wicked' problems. This is not to say that the problems are the same and there is all the difference in the world between the abilities of the resource-rich and of the resource-poor to influence the outcome. But there is nevertheless a fair degree of congruence between the methods which can be helpful in the resolution of problems in the two milieux which produces the paradox that working extensively with our potential alternative clientele may improve O.R.'s ability to assist effectively in the board room; or alternatively, that tools initially developed to assist in managing private corporations or state activities within a capitalist system may be of prime value to groups which contest essential elements of that system. The paradox can, I believe, be explained in terms of operational research's role as a market-substitution mechanism. Markets which once provided coordination between multiple small producers have now been internalized within giant organizations and O.R. is one of the ways in which that coordination is now achieved. There is therefore nothing inherently capitalist about O.R., despite the market/control bias of the dominant methodology which it has actually accreted. Indeed, it could be argued that O.R. prefigures a planning mechanism for a society whose impetus does not come from the dynamic of capital accumulation. But that would take us too far for today. O.R.'s PROBLEMS I have talked about O.R.'s customers, and its methods. It remains to discuss, briefly, its untackled problems. Here I do not wish to recite a litany of specific issues, tractable to O.R.-like analysis, which confront trade union branches, community health councils, tenants associations and the like. For one thing, the work has not been done. We don't know what O.R. could do, because neither tango partner has lined up with the other to face the music. So I would rather suggest a different dimension which is missing in O.R., a lack which I think we can all see from our observation of current affairs. The world we observe is beset by overwhelming predicaments which have a systemic aspect in which any non-catastrophic resolution must thread its way through a maze of complexity, uncertainty and conflicting interests. Those of use who attended the 1985 Operational Research Society Annual Conference will have heard Dr David Jenkins, Bishop of Durham, quote from a list of "continuous critical problems" compiled 18 years ago, but sadly topical as ever. Yet a significant O.R. contribution is significant by its absence. Heiner Mifller-Merbach identified the gap last year: "There is a huge variety of problems waiting for feasible solutions to which the operational research community can contribute. Today's world is not only shaken by several regional and civil wars, by the confrontation between the West and the East, by the North-South conflict, and by financial breakdowns, unemployment, over-population, hunger, crime, lack of education, weakness of leadership, etc. It is also shaken by strong waves of technological development. To keep the world and its parts-at the national and regional levels as well as at the level of the enterprise-under control requires advice from many experts. What will the contribution of the operational research community be?" One can applaud the perception, while regretting perhaps the intrusion, yet again, of O.R's obsession with 'control'. 342

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J. Rosenhead Custom and Practice If anything, Milier-Merbach understates the urgency of our circumstances. The 1980s find the world's social and economic systems in crisis, indeed in a turmoil probably more intense than that of the 1930s. The situation cries out for purposeful contributions from all those who claim and believe that they have something to offer in the resolution of complex problems. It will not be a proud boast for turn-of-the-century operational research to look back and say that we survived the crisis, but washed our hands of any responsibility for it. Certainly such a record would be out of keeping with the spirit of those who pioneered operational research during the Second World War. For, disproportionately, the leading figures of wartime O.R. were drawn from the radical science movement of the 1930s. Its guiding principle, enunciated most powerfully by Desmond Bernal (himself prominent in the development of O.R.), was that science should be used, not for profit or sectional interests, but for the benefit of the whole community. Blackett, Gordon and Waddington, among many others, were members of that movement, and its influence extended, for example, to Watson-Watt and Zuckerman. And their concern for the 'social relations of science' did not have its roots in intellectual theory. It sprang, rather, from despair and disgust at the spectacle of human and social waste which surrounded them, and from a vision that other social arrangements were possible and worth fighting for. To engage with the pressing social issues of our day, the first requirement is a commitment, both individual and collective. That would be a big step. But then, would O.R. actually have an acceptable contribution to make? I believe that the factors which I have been discussing, of who operational research works for and how it works, would, if not severely modified, largely exclude O.R. from involvement. Conversely, the commitment to an alternative mode of operation could help O.R. to realize its potential contribution. Why does O.R. at present effectively exclude itself from contributing to the resolution of major social problems? The reasons lie in both our custom and our practice. The practice is one suited to dealing with tame problems, whose formulation can be specified at the outset, as the prelude to a technical search for solutions. But major social problems are only resolved through complex social processes-of coalition formation, of consensus building, of debate, of mobilization. Our dominant methodology is impermeable to participation, and uncongenial to negotiation and debate. The confined range of our clientele is a further handicap. For the dominant custom of operational research today, with its overwhelming managerialist emphasis, confers on O.R. the image of science only for the bosses, of consistently succouring the already powerful. By such one-sidedness we have gone far towards disqualifying ourselves from a facilitating role where the participation and trust of other interests is a key to any resolution. If this diagnosis is accurate, then the prognosis for O.R.'s involvement in major social issues is by no means discouraging. For the cure lies largely in our own hands. A commitment to working with and for non-managerial groups could dispel the notion that operational research is necessarily wedded to a single social interest and perspective. And working with such non-traditional clients could only strengthen and enrich our incipient alternative O.R. methodology which, through its openness to participation and its project of structuring issues rather than solving problems, would lend itself more readily to the role of constructively focusing public debate. To aspire to work with such alternative groups, to tackle significant social issues, is not just O.R. empire building. In conditions of complexity and uncertainty, the absence of the tools, the methods, the approach which operational research can bring partially disables weaker groups from pursuing their aims effectively, and impoverishes the quality of political debate. Certainly O.R. does stand to gain, not least through recovering its intellectual vitality. In this sense, we need the involvement with alternative clients, and with major social problems. But we should always remember that they need us too.

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