What is OR?

A test of your creativity and your intellect

Operational Research, also variously known as “Management Science”, “Business Analytics” or “Data Science” (see below), is a multidisciplinary vocation which applies scientific and mathematical expertise and methodologies to problems outside the traditional boundaries of these fields. The aim is to influence and improve organisational decision making and so drive better outcomes.

OR practitioners start with an analytical perspective and knowledge of mathematical modelling and statistics. They combine this with consultancy skills and formal techniques for stakeholder engagement and consensus building, to define, model and solve complex real-world problems.

Over the past century OR has developed in line with advances in computing and data collection. Its reach has expanded accordingly from the kinds of optimisation problems that can be solved with pen and paper, to spreadsheet-based analytics, to cutting-edge simulations and statistical modelling carried out in general purpose programming languages. OR can be found embedded into today’s high-performance manufacturing, logistics and of course a wide range of public services, from energy to healthcare.

Find out more about Operational Research practice


Data science

Data Science is very similar to OR in its aims and the two share many methodologies in common. In historical terms, OR was “spun-out” of mathematical physics and engineering academia with the advent of early computers and algorithms which made a wide range of problems tractable to the technically trained. Data science has more recently “spun-out” of statistics academia with the advent of big data and machine learning.

Data science places a relatively greater emphasis on data visualisations, and advanced statistical techniques like machine learning. It is frequently found together with OR on postgraduate courses in university mathematics departments.

Joining GORS is one of the primary pathways to working on data science in Government. Many GORS members also carry the title of Data Scientist or otherwise utilise a data science skillset in their work.

Find out more about the role of data science in Government, and about becoming a government data scientist.