Engagement and co-creation in focus at EurOMA Forum 2019

For two days, 140 researchers with a passion for sustainability in operations and supply chains gathered at Chalmers to gain new ideas, debate and engage together. But also – to shed light on the complexity and the many unsolved questions within the field.
​”We are in love with the subject. Let´s start the co-creation!” 


With those words, Professor Mats Johansson at Chalmers marked the opening of the 6th EurOMA Sustainable Operations and Supply Chains Forum. The Forum, arranged by Chalmers Department of Technology Management of Economics, gathered more than 140 participants from all over the world, looking to explore questions of how to develop, improve, operate and study operations and supply chains in a truly sustainable way.

AnneToubolic_190318_04_750x540.jpgDoctor Anne Touboulic, Assistant Professor at Nottingham University Business School and member of the committee of the EurOMA Forum, emphasized the importance of finding your own voice in research and society – and at the same time understanding that we need to engage with others.

"The academia has us working in silos, but events like the EurOMA Forum help us break away from that. We must listen to different perspectives, reflect and be critical of each other’s work.  It´s the only way to create change – otherwise, we will just produce the same knowledge and perspectives over and over again, she says.
 
Anne Touboulic has seen the Forum develop during the years. 


“Today, we have a new generation of researchers who see themselves as research activists. They have a strong sustainability focus, trying to challenge the status quo”, she says.
 
One of the first-time visitors of the EurOMA Forum was Eman El-Akkad, a doctoral student at University of Minho. For her, the Forum provided an opportunity to meet new people and receive valuable input on her research. At the conference, she presented her work on plastic bottles reverse logistics in Egypt – a challenge she is taking on with great enthusiasm. 


EmanEl-Akkad_190318_01_750x540.jpg"With my research, I hope to change the huge problem in Egypt with garbage management and recycling. No plastic bottles are returnable in Egypt and you can’t drink tap water – so the consumption is very high. At my presentation, the audience really helped me with ideas for my Ph.D. This is a fantastic chance to gain a context for your research and build relationships with new people. Especially since the participants come from different countries and cultures – that really opens new ideas”, she says.

As a board member of EorOMA, Professor Stefan Seuring at the University of Kassel is a true veteran of the Forum. He has visited all six conferences and has seen them grow each year.
 “We started with 60 participants, today we are 140. Sustainability certainly is a hot topic”, he says.

Stefan Seuring praised the good feedback atmosphere at the conference and pointed out the importance of these kinds of gatherings.


“We must listen to different perspectives, reflect and be critical of each other’s work. It´s the only way to create change”

Dr Anne Touboulic

“You step outside of your cubicle and get feedback from other people in the field who are not a part of your team and might have a completely different view”, he says.

He highlights the challenge of digitalization as one of the most important issues in the research field right now.
 
StefanSeuring_190318_06_750x540.jpg"Will digitalization actually improve sustainability issues, or not? We just don’t know yet. We can use Big Data to look at different issues, but at the same time we have to ask ourselves what is acceptable. Is the monitoring of your suppliers appropriate? I see a lot of open questions”, he says, and adds with a smile:
“I guess that’s the advantage of being an academic – I´m allowed to ask questions without having the answers”.

Professor Mats Johansson at Chalmers, one of the organizers of this year’s Forum, believe that the discussions at the conference highlighted the complexity and the many unsolved questions of the field.
 
“There are no simple solutions since the solutions we are going for have drawbacks and might be in conflict with other sustainability goals. That complexity becomes very clear at events like this. But perhaps this is as it should be – you leave the Forum with more questions than answers”, he says.
 
Mats Johansson also points out the width of the subjects at the Forum.
 
“There was a very broad spectrum of different topics related to social or environmental sustainability. For example, we had papers on modern slavery, climate change, waste handling and policies”, he says.
 
The theme of the conference, Engagement and Co-creation of knowledge, was visible in different ways during the two days. At the sessions much time was offered for discussions, and the audience was encouraged to write down their thoughts on a post-it for the presenter to take away from the conference.
 
“We tried to find big and small things to engage people in co-creation and discussions”, Mats Johansson says.
 
Text: Ulrika Ernström
Photo: Carolina Pires Bertuol

Facts About The Forum

The 6th EurOMA Sustainable Operations and Supply Chains Forum took place between March 18 and 19, at Chalmers. It was arranged by Chalmers Department of Technology Management of Economics and gathered more than 140 participants from all over the world. Next year the EurOMA Forum will be held at the Nottingham University Business School.

Published: Thu 28 Mar 2019.