Research to operations requires an astute and routine identification and evaluation of the stakeholders. The most efficient way to do this is holding conferences, in person, that pull unique participants from the breadth of researchers, practitioners, and leaders within, and beyond, the community. This means engaging colleagues beyond the geographic and disciplinary reaches of current R2O activities. There are usually many international partners and adjacent sectors that can provide a fresh perspective on how to optimize R2O activities based on their own trials. Taken to heart, these perspectives can challenge the status quo through reframing R2O discussions. After all, R2O is about collaboration. It is about the people involved more than the process that institutes and prescribes it.
It is not as easy as calling a meeting and buying some coffee and muffins though. Planning a conference and establishing an agenda that focuses on R2O necessitates placing a notable emphasis on who is in the audience, not who should be presenting. Conferences that seek to serve as a springboard for new R2O ideas or concepts for improving R2O itself must hear from those “in the trenches” instead of “on the hill”. Successful R2O is in its details.
There is a clear way to identify whether an agenda has strayed too far from the ideals of connecting people and exploiting opportunities. If the program on paper appears like an itemized organizational chart, with the senior leadership presenting first, then the mid-level management, and finally project managers, then the conference will be more about affirming the present than changing for the future. The audience is likely to consist of a mixture of researchers and practitioners that do not necessary identify with the process-centric perspective that managers usually proffer anyway. Hearing the internal community perspectives as well as those from aboard and beyond can stimulate a thorough discussion about future directions and energize everyone involved.
Conferences that connect both players in the R2O cycle must translate the discussion to a consensus so that the promising ideas for future R2O transition or process improvement are identified. Once they are identified, further conference interactions should aim to produce actionable partnerships and proposals. This requires less talking to the audience and more hearing from the audience, or giving the members of the audience the opportunity to talk amongst each other. In other words, the program should consist of fewer presentations and more town hall meetings, panel discussions, and breakout groups.
Beyond that, inviting international collaborators to partake in events at R2O conferences can assure a different perspective is shared. This could be particularly advantageous for R2O projects with substantial government involvement. After all, government processes can be resistant to change because there are no external market forces to demand it, even if budgets are tight. Yet, international government partners likely have similar challenges and may resolve them differently.
But it has to be easy for all of the R2O players to air their opinions and provide potential solutions. This is difficult to force, but encouraging the willing conference attendees to address how they see the present climate and future evolution of the R2O environment in the perspective of their own R2O projects instead of what they are doing is a major step. The “how” provides the details. There are endless examples of R2O but examples of R2O, even successful ones, are not really telling of best practices on their face.
Furthermore, from a science perspective, conferences, including those with international collaborations, can be beneficial to the entire community in producing the best research approaches that can then translate to improved research byproducts. Parallel algorithm development teams may be in competition, whether formally or informally, but there is joint interest in determining the merits of each solution, scientific or otherwise. The best criticism and ideas can sometimes come from the outside.
Bringing people together to build collaborations and expand the community requires use of that capacity in demonstrating its benefit. To that end, the largest community conference can still be unsuccessful if it is nothing more than presentations directed to an audience. Encouraging attendees to contribute to the forum and build their personal networks beyond their discipline, organization, or nation is essential for the growth and refinement of R2O. Listen to them.