A personal view by Tony Greenfield
We were 101 at the Oslo meeting, 17 and 18 of September. We have 301 members. Where were the other 200? I shall discuss that question later. But what did they miss? They missed two days full of enthusiasm, of brainstorming, of minds bubbling with eagerness to share ideas and to learn from each other. It was non-stop.
We say that a meeting's success is determined by those who attend. Since everyone contributed in some way, presenting their work, debating in working groups exchanging business cards and email addresses over coffee and dinner, everyone gained.
Enthusiasm showed in the number and quality of papers presented, so many that, as well as plenary and working group sessions, we needed 11 presentation sessions running three at a time in parallel. There were four sessions on design of experiments, two each on statistical modelling, statistical process control and business applications, and one on engineering applications. This made choice difficult: I wanted to go to everything! Should I attend those sessions with topics about which I feel knowledgeable, or those others about which I feel ignorant? I mixed it and learned from them all.
'The medium is the message' and our medium is that of the latest communications technology: the internet, the world wide web, the computer and the compact disk. We no longer have to wait for proceedings to be printed and posted. They are available immediately on a CD handed to us when we registered. It saved me from either carrying a heavy printed volume round the conference or waiting for months after the meeting for it to be delivered: common experiences with conferences of yesteryear. I can sit at home, browse the CD and learn. There are 44 abstracts (numbered to 45 but one is missing), papers for most of them and presentation slides for a few.
But the medium was the message long before the meeting. The planning and debate about the form and organisation of the meeting was done almost entirely by email with messages flying through space between committee members for months ahead. Normal post was never used and the telephone rarely. Emails (received and saved on our home computers?) are an excellent record of the work. Only those who have ever been involved in driving an international conference can appreciate the great effort that must be applied to ensure success.
Behind the scenes
Yes, it is true that a meeting's success is determined by those who attend, but it has no chance at all without the dedication, time, thought and determination of the drivers. Every member of the committee contributed in some way but there were some leading players. Can I name a few without offending others? Yes: we are too good-natured to take offence. Oystein Evandt offered Oslo, found the excellent meeting facilities, arranged accommodation and all other services we needed, and invited the Mayor of Oslo, Per Ditlev Simonsen, to welcome us to his city. We thank the mayor for his acknowledgment and for the hospitality of Oslo. Ronald Does kept track of the money, ensuring that we all paid and all our dues were settled. Jeroen de Mast and Alessandro di Bucchianico kept, and still keep, our website going. Jeroen also worked with Soren and John Shade to prepare the CD. Henry Wynn, our president, whipped up enthusiasm and chaired the committee. Soren Bisgaard, the conference chairman, seemed to be doing everything, in touch with us all and taking command of the whole occasion. For several months, hardly a day passed without a message from him. He was the driver in chief and we thank him especially. Lesley Fairbairn enlisted our sponsors (Minitab, SAS, Statsoft, Arnold Publishing, ISRU, Insightful, John Wiley, Lighthouse, Norli Bokhandel, Springer-Verlag, SPSS Norway) and wrote a record of the conference and those committee meetings that were in Oslo.
Henry Wynn, in his talk to the conference on ENBIS and the unification of industrial statistics, said: 'ENBIS is the most exciting development in industrial statistics in Europe for many years and perhaps ever. Let us hope that the excitement is maintained while at the same time we seek to increase understanding and fulfil the duties and ambitions stemming from this initial enthusiasm. The style of ENBIS as an informal, democratic and innovative network will make it easier for these ambitions to be realised.'
The presidency passed from Henry to Dave Stewardson who had been elected with other committee members by an email poll.
Dave reported his creation: pro-ENBIS, a parallel organisation that will raise funds to support our activities. For several months, he has been pursuing the procedures of the European Commission to gain support and he hopes to conclude a contract with the Commission by next January. That support will be substantial and will last, initially, for three years. There are many features of the support. They include funds to discover European resources and expertise, to make links with other industrial statistics groups, to create a database of training materials and to develop new materials, to draft a scheme to help SMEs (small and medium enterprises) and perhaps to produce a new web-based journal as a resource for industries where we can describe problems solved as case-studies and list sources of expertise; we shall deliver workshops, seminars, industrial visits and articles in the popular press. There is much more to the arrangement; it will all be described on our web pages when the contract has been signed.
Many of the pro-ENBIS activities will be fuelled by the ENBIS working groups. Reports from the working groups are published on this website.
Ulrike Groemping organised the working groups and told us where to meet and how to report our deliberations, with the hope that each group would aim to produce between three and five successful studies. Shirley Coleman urged every group to contribute a full session to next year's conference and to suggest suitable speakers. She suggested that the session should include one presentation on the state of the art in the group's field and this should be published on the group's web page.
I can give a view only of the group I attended: statistical consultancy. We agreed that we could use the internet for consultancy, for collaboration on projects and for mutual support, backing each other up with complementary and emergency skills, sharing of software including macros, reporting our case studies and discussing unsolved problems. Several members were charged with specific tasks. For example, I shall collate examples of ethical codes of conduct for consultants with a view to drafting a code to which we shall all adhere.
Yes, the medium is the message: the new communications enable us to network in a way never before envisaged. Emails fly between members, bringing countries close together. But every email message has a name and behind every name is a face and a mind. I want to be able to recognise that face and to talk mind-to-mind. That is why we must have an international meeting every year. Next year's will be in Rimini, 23 and 24 of September, and planning has begun with Fabrizio Ruggeri and Paolo Giudici in the driving seat. A year later it will probably be in Barcelona and I heard some people discussing Copenhagen for the year after that. Let us hope, as Henry said, that the excitement is maintained.
Which returns me to the question of numbers. I should be sad if, even without an increase in members above 300, only 100 joined in the fun. So where were the other 200? Why did they miss the meeting?
Were the dates unsuitable? It's hard to find dates that suit everyone and we believe September is a good month: after the holiday for members in business and industry, before the academic year begins.
Was the conference too expensive? It was cheap compared with most but some members might have been deterred by airfares to Oslo. Shop around. I was able to fly from Manchester to Oslo at a fifth of the published scheduled flight cost, so my wife came with me.
Perhaps some members didn't know about the conference. It was all there on our website but access to the website demands positive action whereas receiving an email message is passive. I suggest that a brief reference to every important message, such as notices of conferences, elections, and updates to working group pages, should be sent to all members by email. These messages would have linking URLs so that you would easily discover the details.
A membership of 300 was a splendid achievement after only a year's existence. But, in Europe, there must be many more statisticians and statistical practitioners (engineers, scientists and business people who use statistical methods or would like to do so). How can we recruit them? My own small contribution is to add to every email, in my signature, the message:
I am a member of ENBIS:
the European Network for Business and Industrial Statistics.
Please visit the website at: http://www.ibisuva.nl/ENBIS.
It may bear fruit if we all do it. Do you have other suggestions? Are there other ways to promote ENBIS in our general correspondence? A brief list of membership benefits? A statement of our aims?
KeynotesWe started and ended the conference with keynote addresses. Greg Watson has our special thanks and praise for travelling from America so soon after the terrible terrorist attack in New York. He is chairman of the American Society for Quality and he told us about the contribution of the Six Sigma training programmes towards total quality in business and industry.
Roland Caulcutt inspired us before we closed with his assurance that statisticians can be trained as consultants. He outlined an approach that emphasised the psychological components of consultancy, advising us to attend to the behaviour and needs of both statistician and client in terms of their self-esteem.
The needs? Businesses and industries of Europe do need us. Some of them know it, many do not. That is our task, to reach out and show how much we can help them to succeed in their own enterprises. I left the conference with a buzz, eager to contribute to that task. I believe that 100 others did so too.