One of my favorite quotes on Operations Research is by INFORMS President-Elect Ed Kaplan of Yale University. It appears in a paper that he wrote that was published in Omega, "Adventures in Policy Modeling! Operations Research in the Community and Beyond,"and says: Modeling need not be “off the shelf”—rather, modeling with OR techniques should be a celebration of creativity.
His paper is a very provocative and stimulating read and shuts down naysayers.
The paper also is filled with examples as to how Operations Research has informed policy and associated decision-making. The article is focused on community-based policies. Examples are drawn from urban applications (Dick Larson's research and practical applications), AIDS modeling and needle exchanges (work done by Kaplan), drug control (Jonathan Caulkins), and even homicides and gun availability (Al Blumstein's many contributions), to start, and, of course, security. Some great work in this area has been done by, I note, among others, Ed Kaplan, Larry Wein, Sheldon Jacobson, and Laura McLay.
Operations Research has been instrumental in informing policies in other settings, as well, from transportation and logistics to the environment and even medical decision-making, and humanitarian operations.
I work on network systems with many associated applications and it is very gratifying when research that you do also informs policy.
A few years ago, in research conducted with Patrick Qiang, who was my doctoral student at the Isenberg School of Management, and with whom I wrote the Fragile Networks book, we introduced a network performance measure, which allows for the identification and ranking of nodes and links in various network systems operating under decentralized behavior (think of urban transportation networks, certain supply chains, financial networks, and even the Internet). (Patrick is now a tenured Associate Professor at Penn State Great Valley, as of Fall 2015, so more congrats are in order!)
The results of this research appeared in various journals, including Operations Research ones, and even physics, since we wanted to disseminate the work broadly for maximum impact. A high level overview of our results with some applications appears in: Fragile Networks: Identifying Vulnerabilities and Synergies in an Uncertain Age, Anna Nagurney and Qiang Qiang, International Transactions in Operational Research 19: (2012) pp 123-160.
The Nagurney-Qiang performance measure has been used in Indonesia to assess new shipping routes in a study financed in part, by the World Bank. A nice overview of the approach is in a presentation on Prezi.
Our performance measure has also been used by researchers in Greece, led by Mitsakis and collaborators, to conduct network performance and components’ criticality analyses to assess the effects of the immense 2007 fires in Peloponnesus on vehicular traffic and the overall transport network. See also recent work by some of the same researchers on climate change and our measure.
In addition, it has been leveraged in an insightful report, "Guidebook for Enhancing Resilience of European Road Transport in Extreme Weather Events."
Schulz used our network performance measure to assess the importance of roadways in a part of Germany.
It was also applied in Ireland to assess new Dublin metro lines.
It has been utilized to assess the potential impact of earthquakes on critical infrastructure and is now even being applied outside the policy arena in physiological settings (yes, networks are everywhere and that is one reason why I love them!).
As for my work on paradoxes, including environmental ones, in 2007, one of my papers was featured in the New Zealand parliament; info here.
Operations Researchers work on tough problems with solutions having broad and fascinating impacts!