Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Politics in a developing country

Location-allocation problems appear in many settings, and O.R. scientists have been involved in numerous cases. My research student (S) was concerned for the location of primary health-care facilities in his home country. He came equipped with the data about the villages and towns in one province. Populations, location of existing facilities, which villages had suitable infrastructure, distances between the population centres, and the government's policy for expanding health services in their five-year plan. So he set out to study where facilities should be located if one had a blank sheet to start with, given the five-year plan. Then he added constraints, because it would not be politically expedient to close facilities, so these had to remain even if they were not in the optimal solution. He was anxious to develop a system that could be replicated on a PC in his country, and this was part of S's work.

One constraint which had to be imposed was that each sector of the province should have the same number of facilities, and that the expansion plan should ensure that no sector had more than one more than any other. This was to keep local leaders and government staff happy. So the expansion gave each sector two facilities, then expanded these to three. Given the existing facilities, and the uneven distribution of population in the sectors of the province, these constraints meant that the location of facilities would not be as good as it could be.

So S completed his research, and presented it in his thesis and in seminars. At one of these, an astute member of the audience asked how S could be confident that the province would implement the solution. Developing country politics is not always what westerners are used to, and an O.R. solution might not be accepted by politiicians. "Well," said S, "my father works in the provincial governor's office. The governor will take his advice." He had never disclosed this in his research.

This is my first contribution to INFORMS Blog challenge/theme for January 2011 "O.R. and Politics"

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