Innovation: Community Business Models – Spotlight on INFORMS

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Article first published in Executive Update.

It is widely recognized that community plays a central, strategic role for associations. Mark G. Doherty, CAE, Executive Director of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS) provides an excellent case study. Doherty uses community to generate income and provide value to his members by cultivating a business model that thrives on social and intellectual capital.

INFORMS has 11,000 members that include scientists, students, educators, managers and business professionals in Operations Research and the management sciences. Two-thirds of the annual budget comes from subscriptions sales for the 12 publications they produce; one is on-line only.

These periodicals are valued highly in professional and academic circles, recognized authorities in their fields. Together they publish almost 1,000 articles per year, over 10,000 pages in 58 issues. Another quarter of INFORMS’ annual budget comes from its meetings. These two pillars, publications and meetings, support a very successful business model.

Doherty comments, “There are two things we are about: social capital as demonstrated by our meetings and the intellectual capital which we document through our publications. The two are intrinsically linked.” Social capital can be defined as human relationships and interactions that generate revenue. Intellectual capital can be thought of as knowledge that is used to create income. Doherty understands both and combines them, creating a powerful symbiosis.

INFORMS hosts three meetings per year. One is a “new practice” conference. People come to hear the experts in the field discuss the latest and the greatest. The other two meetings provide a forum for the development of new ideas, providing almost every participant with the opportunity to share what they are learning.

Of 3,000 who attend the annual meeting, as many as 2,400 may present. There are often 50 concurrent sessions. Doherty says, “It is a very exciting place to be. There are intellectual debates, disagreements, multi-university collaborations, cross-pollination of ideas. It’s a meeting people love to attend. Repeats are astonishingly high. It’s their opportunity to gather with colleagues, hear about the new-fangled things that are going on. We focus on new or soon-to-be minted PhD’s and will soon include the same for masters’ degrees. Students get involved at an early age. This is social capital at its best!”

The meetings result in over 5,000 articles submitted for publication to INFORMS every year. The quality of these submissions makes it possible for the highly prized journals to publish papers that represent the best in the field, securing their niche as leading periodicals. Several INFORMS journals are tracked by the Financial Times and Business Week, among others, as indicators for intellectual capital trends.

Doherty’s success is founded on his understanding of how to successfully combine interaction at meetings with the publication of his periodicals. He brings his members together in professionally stimulating environments that generate new ideas. Then he harvests the resulting knowledge. The journals provide members with recognition in their field, while at the same time documenting the best of their contributions.

Doherty remarks, “We have hit the bull’s eye by realizing how important social capital is to the dynamics of our organization. Bringing our people together in ways that stimulate their collaboration is how we use community to generate a continuous stream of knowledge that we can document and sell. At the same time we are providing our members with the best opportunity in their field to interact and grow. It’s a win for us all.”


INFORMS can be reached on the web at www.INFORMS.org