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Operational Research

Pro Bono OR – on a roll and sharing the benefits

Today I was interviewed by Felicity McLeister, Pro Bono Project Manager at the OR Society, for some promotional videos she is producing to showcase the value Pro Bono OR is adding to the Third Sector. Although I am a member of the Project’s Steering Group, I’ve also been a beneficiary. Away from my day job, I’m chairman of the Dachshund Breed Council which is a not-for-profit group that promotes education and research for the improvement of Dachshund health and welfare in the UK.

We were lucky to have Sophie Carr of Bays Consulting working with us as a volunteer to develop an Excel Model to assess the impact of DNA testing schemes on breeding programmes. I’ve written about “Dachshunds and Data” before. Sophie was one of a  number of OR people interviewed today, along with representatives from the charities that have benefitted.

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Another pro bono project that was close to my heart was supported by a team from DECC; Modelling the UK Dog Population.

The breeding, ownership and welfare of dogs in the UK is a complex social area. 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. A consensus understanding of the population and how it is stratified is crucial to allow proposing meaningful welfare improvement policies. From November 2013 to May 2014 a group of 3 OR analysts and an engineer from DECC worked with the RSPCA (the UK’s leading animal welfare charity) and Dog-ED (a Social Enterprise applying Systems Thinking to canine welfare) to provide analytical evidences about the number of dogs currently present in UK and how they move through the system. The project involved a significant literature review to collect the data necessary to produce a snapshot of the UK dog population; designing and building a “stocks and flows” model to investigate the flows of dogs from the different categories; and developing recommendations for possible uses and future development of the model. Lack of consensus amongst the data sources, and considerable variation in data quality and definitions used made it difficult to provide accurate answers to the customer’s problem. The team estimated upper and lower bounds for the dog population, created a “stocks and flows” model in Excel, and identified a list of the main data gaps and issues.  This project has fed into scoping the direction of RSPCA campaigns to tackle the illegal puppy trade.

Since September 2013 Pro Bono O.R. has completed 6 projects and is working with 14 other organisations.  The feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive.  For more info visit:-



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