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From the Chairs: The Future of SIGCHI

Mike Atwood

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Happy New Year!

The start of the new year is a time both to review the past and to reflect on the future. In the previous Chairs' Column, we presented an overview of the current state of SIGCHI. In that column, we talked about who we are -- our publications, conferences, special programs, awards, finances, membership, and similar issues. In this Chairs' Column, we will follow the theme of other articles in this issue of the Bulletin and reflect on the future. We will conclude by asking for your participation in contributing to the future evolution of SIGCHI.

Our reflections on the future are based on the goals that the current Executive Committee has set for ACM SIGCHI:

  1. increase the value and visibility of SIGCHI for its members,
  2. create an environment to draw from all areas of the HCI community,
  3. make SIGCHI the focal point for HCI in the world,
  4. be the heart of SIGCHI members' professional network.

Our reflections are also based on the belief that we cannot continue to meet these goals without facing the challenges before us and substantially changing our organization.

There are two primary challenges we must face and these challenges are closely intertwined; the first is to provide for our leadership and support, and the second is the outside perception of our organization.

The management of SIGCHI has outgrown being a part-time activity. Our current membership is 5300; our annual budget is approximately $2.5 million; we are involved in several conferences each year; we can define and fund programs to meet our goals, but cannot find volunteers to implement or manage these programs. Societies of similar size and activities may have support from several full-time positions; ACM SIGCHI has no full-time positions.

During the past several years, ACM and SIGCHI have moved past a model in which ACM provides defined services to a model of partnership in which we work together collaboratively to determine the needs of SIGCHI, as well as the needs of ACM, and how best to address these needs. We believe that this movement has been successful and productive and are pleased with the support we have received from ACM's Office of SIG Services. We also believe that we must accelerate this movement and continually improve our collaboration in order to ensure the mutual future of ACM and SIGCHI.

We are working to grow our partnership with ACM in four areas. First, we will add a full-time conference management professional to support our Conference Management Committee. This person will work from ACM headquarters and be dedicated to SIGCHI activities. Second, we will hire a half-time contractor to manage our web site and electronic publications and to provide support to our volunteer Information Director. This position will also be dedicated to SIGCHI activities. We expect these positions to be filled very soon.

Two areas of partnership are still under discussion. The first to how better support our membership development and volunteer management activities, such as welcome letters, membership directories, job databases, and volunteer orientation. We are currently working with the Membership Services organization at ACM headquarters to see if we can increase our partnership to support these activities. The second is to work with the ACM staff to evaluate our need for a Program Director to work only with SIGCHI. Currently, we share Diane Darrow with other SIGs. We are very pleased with the support we get from Diane, but believe that SIGCHI would benefit from a Program Director solely dedicated to us.

Resolving the four areas discussed above will alleviate the challenge of providing leadership and support. We will use future Chairs' Columns to update you on these activities.

The second challenge is to improve the outside perception of ACM SIGCHI. Our community began when an interdisciplinary group of people found that they had similar interests in understanding human-computer interaction. While several disciplines were represented, we eventually associated with ACM where the SIG structure nurtured our growth into the premier organization in the field of HCI. We cannot maintain this position, however, if we continue as a Special Interest Group. There are two reasons why we need to clearly be identified as a Society of HCI professionals affiliated with ACM rather than as an ACM Special Interest Group.

First, we need to improve our image and put us on a level playing field with our competitors and better formalize our international identity. Within ACM, a SIG is an organizational entity with continuity, common interest areas, and well-defined rules of operation. Within the larger world, however, a Special Interest Group is an informal mechanism for small groups of people to address a specific interest. We are neither informal nor small and our collective interests are expanding, as is apparent in the number and the diversity of the conferences we are involved with. Organizations like the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, the IEEE Computer Society, and the Usability Professionals Association clearly identify themselves as societies or associations. We benefited from starting as an ACM Special Interest Group, but we must indicate that we have evolved past that stage if we are to effectively raise the credibility of our organization and our profession to the world at large. The term Special Interest Group, as it is used popularly, no longer describes who we are or what we do.

Second, the Special Interest Group model limits our ability to insure the future of the HCI community. As our society has grown, both the needs and diversity of our members have grown. All of our members identify with the field of HCI; some identify professionally with ACM; others identify with other professional societies. We are an interdisciplinary society with a strong grounding in the core areas of ACM but with strong identification with other professions, as well. We could better continue to provide a common meeting place if we a society of HCI professionals affiliated with ACM rather than an ACM Special Interest Group. CHI has the third position in our name; behind ACM and behind SIG; we need to elevate the position of CHI.

Discussions about CHI as a Society rather than as a Special Interest Group are underway. Two past Chairs, Austin Henderson and Jim Miller, along with Clare-Marie Karat, Diane Darrow, and Mike Atwood have discussed this idea with the ACM Executive Director (Joe DeBlasi), the ACM SIG Services Director (Donna Baglio), and the ACM President (then, Stu Zweben). We thank Austin, Jim, Clare-Marie and Diane for their support of this important activity and Stu and Joe for their advice and guidance. Both the ACM Executive Committee and the ACM SIG Board have formed task forces (led, respectively, by Stu Zweben and Randy Dipner) to investigate the issue of ACM Societies and we look forward to a productive working relationship with both.

In summary, we solicit your help in addressing the challenges of providing for our leadership and support and of improving the outside perception of our organization. Let us know whether you are getting the support you want; let us know what you will volunteer to do. Finally, we ask for your support in moving from a SIG to a Society in order to elevate the position of CHI both within the ACM community and the broader community of professions of all our members.

Mike & Guy

P.S. The issues discussed in this column have been shaped by many people. We are grateful for the support, advice, discussions, comments, review and active involvement of the SIGCHI Executive Committee and (in alphabetical order) Donna Baglio, Diane Darrow, Joe DeBlasi, Austin Henderson, Clare-Marie Karat, Jim Miller, and Stu Zweben. Thank you! And, we look forward to involving more of you in these important issues!!

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