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Ensuring a Local SIG's Future

Richard Anderson

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Fitting Into and Creating a Culture

How do you build a solid membership base? What activities should be offered? What geographic area should the organization serve? How do you ensure a local chapter's vitality and health?

Answers to questions of this nature are very important to those interested in creating or continuing a local SIGCHI chapter. And considering answers to these questions is an important part of the process of developing a vision for a local chapter's future.

So, where does one find the answers?

Experiences of Other Chapters

Many answers can be found in the decisions and experiences of other local chapters. And many decisions and reported experiences, communicated via tips and chapter profiles, can be found in past Local SIGs columns. All of these columns are now available via the Local SIGs website (http://www.acm.org/sigchi/local-sigs), and future columns will contain similar information.

But sometimes the decisions and experiences of others are not the decisions you should make or the experiences you will have. For example, a decision made by most local chapter organizers is to serve a geographic area smaller than an entire country. This has been an easy decision for most, plus ACM has enforced such a policy to make sure that all people within the area served have reasonable access to the chapter's activities and to permit other interested individuals to form additional chapters with the same technical interests in the same country without infringing on an already existing chapter. However, Steven Pemberton has argued that such a decision makes most sense in the United States but less sense in many other, much smaller countries, including The Netherlands where Steven is organizing a chapter. Plus, according to Steven, "for historical reasons, it is unacceptable to call our SIG, say, the Amsterdam SIG, since that would alienate potential members from other (nearby) cities."

Cultural Differences

Similarly, activities that work well for some may not work well for others. This is reflected in my recent discovery that some people have found the CHI Conference Challenge -- an activity intended to bring local chapter enthusiasts together (see several past columns, including the October '96 column) -- and elements of the associated fictional rivalry that has developed between ToRCHI and BayCHI to be perplexing and even somewhat distasteful. According to one of the people who have commented on this, an event and a stance emphasizing competition rather than cooperation seems to be "a very American thing."

As SIGCHI becomes increasingly international, such cultural differences among chapters are likely to increase. Indeed, local chapter development has been increasing in Europe while the number of chartered and prospective local chapters in North America has been decreasing.

Building a Membership Base

To make sure they were doing the right thing(s), organizers of KC-CHI (the prospective chapter based in Kansas City, MO USA) decided to not submit their request to become an official local SIG until KC-CHI activities occurred on a regular basis and they were certain there was enough interest to keep the chapter alive. At the time of this writing, Chair Alp Tiritoglu was getting ready to submit the official forms though KC-CHI had been in operation for several months.

According to Alp, an important step taken in Kansas City was establishing connections with local places of learning. The University of Kansas has played a particularly important role, providing an on-going source of members, meeting attendees, and great speakers, and the Kansas City MO Public Library is proving to be a great place for KC-CHI meetings.

Creating a Culture

"Another important step was committing ourselves to trying to `accomplish something' rather than to just meet on a regular basis," Alp told me. This decision has committed organizers to do everything they can to make sure meeting attendees receive something of significant value -- something they can use. "Plus, I try to make things fun and create an informal atmosphere that encourages participation and networking."

Other chapters that have been successful at building a membership base have also been good at fitting into and creating a culture. For example, BayCHI thrives in part because attending professional meetings after hours and many miles away is a part of the San Francisco Bay Area culture and because the BayCHI meeting program and atmosphere is often unique and exciting.

Hence, some of the answers to some of those questions that are critical to a local chapter's future are to be found in characteristics of one's culture -- the culture that exists and the culture that one generates. Future columns will explore these issues further.

Welcome Toulouse SIGCHI

Since the last Local SIGs column was authored, a new SIGCHI local chapter was chartered: Toulouse France SIGCHI. A warm welcome to Toulouse and Marie-France Barthet, Chair. We shall learn more about Toulouse SIGCHI in future columns.

Richard Anderson,
Local SIGs Chair
rianderson.chi@xerox.com

Same topic in earlier issue
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SIGCHI Bulletin
Vol.29 No.1, January 1997
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