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CHI Ten Year View: Creating and Sustaining Common Ground

Catherine R. Marshall and David Novick

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At CHI 96 a workshop was held to address the questions:

  • What will the state of the CHI community be in the year 2006?
  • What kind of work will the members of that community be doing?
  • What will they consider to be the key issues and research questions of the day?
  • What will be the nature of the social and technological context in which their work will occur?
  • What kind of educational preparation and work experience will characterize a successful CHI professional?
  • What body of knowledge and set of skills will form the common ground of the field?

In the workshop, participants used methods derived from corporate strategic planning to create three scenarios describing alternative possible futures for the field of CHI. The group then used these scenarios to address the question of common ground. The workshop was designed to be of interest to educators and managers involved in the development of CHI professionals as well as individual researchers and practitioners thinking about their future work or career plans.

Scenario Method

Philosophical Underpinnings

It's important to understand from the outset that scenario development exercises are not intended to produce accurate predictions or models of the future. Professional strategic planners consider attempts to predict the future in any kind of detail to be futile at best and dangerous at worst. Nevertheless, even though the future is uncertain, our view is that we can not only plan for it but also influence it. The method of scenario development we used in the workshop is designed to aid planning under uncertainty. It is based on the premise that considering a number of different scenarios that might unfold (even though we don't expect any of them actually will unfold) sensitizes us to key drivers and thus results in more robust planning and more effective, proactive decision making.

Basic Approach

The method we used to create the three scenarios followed a traditional approach in which scenarios are developed based on three projected future states for a small number of related indicators.

Selection of Indicators

The indicators selected to drive the scenario development process should be related in a fairly basic way to the "health" or "success" of the organization or community under consideration. The indicators chosen do not need to be comprehensive. They also do not have to be metrics for which we have existing data or defined measurement techniques. What is important, however, is that everyone involved in the scenario development exercise have a good, shared understanding of what it means for an indicator to go up or down.

For our scenario development exercise, the organizers selected the following indicators:

  • availability of jobs for CHI professionals in 2006
  • median salary for CHI professionals in 2006
  • general job satisfaction among CHI professionals in 2006
  • membership level for SIGCHI and related professional societies in 2006.

Scenarios

The organizers then constructed three skeleton scenarios:

Baseline Scenario

For this scenario, we assume that the availability of jobs for CHI professionals in 2006 is about the same as it is today. (Note: This would require growth in the total number of jobs, since the rate at which people are entering the pipeline is greater than the rate at which they are exiting.) We also assume that the median (adjusted) salary and the general level of job satisfaction for CHI professionals in 2006 is about the same as it is today. Finally, we assume that membership in SIGCHI and related professional societies has grown only slightly.

Pessimistic Scenario

Here we assume that jobs for CHI professionals are hard to come by in comparison to those for professionals with a comparable degree of training and experience. We further assume that the median salary for CHI professionals is lower than it is today, and that CHI professionals have low job satisfaction. We also assume that membership in SIGCHI has declined dramatically.

Optimistic Scenario

Here we assume that in 2006 jobs for CHI professionals are plentiful, that the median (adjusted) salary for CHI professionals is higher than it is today, and that most CHI professionals find their work interesting and satisfying. We also assume that the membership of SIGCHI and related professional societies has grown significantly.

Why These Scenarios?

It will be obvious to the reader that other scenarios could be constructed by having some indicators go up while others go down. These scenarios might even be more plausible. We limited ourselves to the three scenarios described above in order to push thinking in different directions and, at the same time, keep the scenario development task tractable.

Scenario-Generating Questions

During the workshop, participants worked on fleshing out each of the three scenarios by describing a set of events, trends and circumstances that could give rise to his scenario and then addressing the following questions:

  • What assumptions does this scenario make about the state of technology, the economy and society in 2006?
  • Are any of these assumptions key drivers for the scenario?
  • What is the role of CHI research in this scenario?
  • What forms the common ground of the CHI community in this scenario?
  • What does CHI 06 look like in this scenario?

Background Analysis

Prior to the workshop, each participant prepared a position paper. In a preparatory analysis, the organizers created a digest of participants' views on current situation, trends and drivers. During the first workshop activity, participants reviewed and refined this digest. The results of this background analysis are excerpted here:

Current Situation

Workshop participants' observations about the current situation of the CHI field and community:

  • Division of CHI work into research and practice
  • Shift away from research toward development
  • Stagnation of CHI theory
  • Developers still produce interfaces uninformed by CHI
  • Multi-disciplinarity leads disunity and marginalization
  • New technologies better support group work
  • Increasing focus on work and work setting

Trends

Workshop participants' observations about clearly existing, ongoing changes in society, politics, economics, and technology that may affect CHI directly or indirectly:

  • Increasing differentials between rich and poor
  • Corporate downsizing and out-sourcing of work
  • Increasing environmental concerns
  • Increasing concern with process
  • Academe moving toward centers, away from tenure, into new funding models
  • Computers/communications as part of everyday life
  • Rapid growth of Internet and WWW
  • Everyday users designing interfaces
  • Increasing importance of artistic creativity in design

Drivers

Workshop participants' observations about possible future events or trends that cannot be predicted with certainty or in detail, but would be likely to have a significant impact on the CHI field and community:

  • Wireless, digital, ubiquitous computing/communications
  • Software by components
  • Increased emphasis on standards
  • Powerful, ubiquitous authoring tools
  • Multimodal interaction; emphasis on input modalities
  • More new interaction techniques and technologies
  • Knowledge base of CHI will expand and the complexity of the field will increase
  • Growing differentiation between CHI specialists and CHI generalists
  • Increasingly important role as "translators" -- i.e. facilitators of communication between the various constituencies who are involved in or have some stake in the development of products and the utilization of technology

Scenario Results

Scenario 1: "Desperately Seeking Common Ground" (The Baseline Scenario)

We assume that the availability of jobs for CHI professionals in 2006 is about the same as it is today. We also assume that the median (adjusted) salary and the general level of job satisfaction for CHI professionals in 2006 is about the same as it is today. Finally, we assume that membership in SIGCHI and related professional societies has grown only slightly.

Events, Trends and Drivers

  • CHI is a "big tent" with increasing specialization and spin-off conferences, but not reconciled or integrated with increasing breadth, especially for "translators," who perform routine functions in organizations but are not very highly valued.
  • Attempts, only partly successful, to develop a common language within CHI have not resolved into common ground.
  • Growing awareness of CHI within computing community generally, but most new growth is in other communities, like software engineering, multimedia, VR, CAD, and CSCW.
  • More people join community from, e.g., arts and business, but more people also leave the community to return to their core disciplines or to spin-off groups like CSCW.

Technology, Economy and Society

  • Technology will still see big developments, but these won't come from within CHI although they will give a sustaining role to CHI. CHI community is mostly reactive rather than proactive.
  • Human focus in systems development still seen as important.
  • Government policies remain favorable to technology development, and CHI in particular.

Role of CHI Research

  • Continues to be technology-driven, results non-generalizable.
  • Diverse research communities remain differentiated.
  • Model of research is evolution, not revolution.

CHI 06 Conference

  • Conference is slightly larger overall, because more people in field, but less identification with CHI.
  • Some people have left the field.
  • Lots of churn, with many newcomers who won't return.

Common Ground of CHI Community

  • Little basis for common ground because community fails to integrate across subcommunities; that is, CHI has not resolved breadth-depth tensions.
  • Continued identification of importance of human in systems design, manifested as, e.g., usability testing and toolkits.

Scenario 2: "Ahead to the Past" (The Pessimistic Scenario)

We assume that jobs for CHI professionals are hard to come by in comparison to those for professionals with a comparable degree of training and experience. We further assume that the median salary for CHI professionals is lower than it is today, and that CHI professionals have low job satisfaction. We also assume that membership in SIGCHI has declined dramatically.

Events, Trends and Drivers

  • Much of what CHI professionals do today can be done by people who have much less specialized knowledge because knowledge has become packaged into standards, tools, and conventionalized interfaces (e.g., desktop metaphor). In the meantime, CHI professionals have not found new things they can do to have recognized value.
  • This happens in part because CHI=GUI. Innovation leading to new interaction paradigms occur outside the CHI community, and that community fails to have any significant impact on it.

Technology, Economy and Society

  • Universities have declined because of continued reductions in funding; this is especially hard on a relatively new field like CHI.

Role of CHI Research

  • A small group of die-hards will be doing research looking for ways to advance the field. Research in CHI will be largely technology-reactive, however.
  • Where has CHI gone? Some of CHI is packaged and easily learned with relatively little training. Some of CHI is absorbed by software engineering and mainstream CS. Some CHI professionals will reinvent themselves as specialists; they'll be doing what they currently do, but they'll no longer identify it as CHI. What's still recognized as CHI has its input and impact very late in the development process, which represents a retreat to the situation of 10-plus years ago.

CHI 06 Conference

  • A trade show. People will come to look for jobs.

Common Ground of CHI Community

  • One key driver of the decline of CHI is the failure of the community to identify a common core and to find common ground. This is what led to the leeching away of talent and energy into other fields that did not identify themselves as part of CHI.
  • CHI collapses as a field, and the world goes on. CHI is not much missed. However, we believe that something has still been lost: a potential for synergy that's not missed because it never became sufficiently realized to become recognized.

Scenario 3: "CHI Reinvents Itself" (The Optimistic Scenario)

We assume that in 2006 jobs for CHI professionals are plentiful, that the median (adjusted) salary for CHI professionals is higher than it is today, and that most CHI professionals find their work interesting and satisfying. We also assume that the membership of SIGCHI and related professional societies has grown significantly.

Events, Trends and Drivers

  • CHI plays a key role in creating a new generation of products, processes and technologies that change the way people live and work, because:
  • CHI facilitates the integration of diverse approaches to System Development, including software engineering, industrial design, organization management, and user-centered design;
  • CHI develops useful predictive approaches for interaction technology;
  • CHI is proactive in identifying and creating new areas of contribution for use of CHI expertise;
  • CHI manages increasing growth and diversity of field without loss of core compentencies;
  • CHI community is able to respond effectively to external events, such as (i) the emergence of multicultural markets for computing and communications, (ii) a move away from traditional disciplinary divisions in academe toward centers focused on solving problems, and (iii) increasing environmental concerns.

Technology, Economy and Society

  • CHI will receive continuing stimulus from innovation in, e.g., technology, theory, and social systems.
  • CHI will remove barriers to participation in communities of interest via, e.g., virtual communities and electronic voting.
  • Lower prices for computing and communication technologies
  • Political context stays positive, supporting global economic growth
  • Artistic interfaces yield awards, public recognition, royalties

Role of CHI Research

  • Results are generalizable and transitioned to practice.
  • Expands beyond office work to everyday life and leisure.
  • Increase multicultural and environmental emphasis.
  • Stronger ties between industry and academe.
  • Opportunities for new research paradigms, i.e., unhampered by traditional disciplinary boundaries.

CHI 06 Conference

  • Large, distributed virtual event with productive interaction between specialists and generalists, with terrific inexpensive multicultural food, enabling participants to be well-informed about significant developments in the field.
  • International awards for great interface achievements.

Common Ground of CHI Community

  • Core knowledge in common: specialists will take some aspect in depth and generalists will have good understanding of field as a whole. Agreed-upon standards and design processes will help to unify the field.
  • Focus by CHI professionals on pioneering new markets and products helps to integrate researchers and practitioners.

Workshop Web Site

The methods and results reported above, along with additional supplementary information, can be viewed by visiting the workshop web site http://www.collabtech.com/CHI-future/

Workshop Participants

Peter Gorny, University of Oldenburg; Brian Hansen, Oregon Graduate Institute; John Karat, IBM T J Watson Research Center; Laura Leventhal, Bowling Green State University; Allan MacLean, Rank Xerox Research Center; Michael Mateas, Intel; Manuel Perez-Quinones, Naval Research Laboratory; Lisa Tweedie, Imperial College; Cathleen Wharton, U S WEST Advanced Technologies.

Workshop Organizers

Catherine R. Marshall, CollabTech

David G. Novick, Oregon Graduate Institute

About the Authors

Catherine Marshall is the president of CollabTech, a small company specializing in research, consulting, system design and custom application development for collaborative technologies. She previously has held research and management positions at U S WEST, Hewlett-Packard, and Bell Laboratories and also served as an NSF Visiting Professor at the Oregon Graduate Institute of Science and Technology.

David Novick is Director of Research at the European Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Engineering (EURISCO) and associate professor of computer science at the Oregon Graduate Institute of Science and Technology. He is a founding member of CHIFOO and SIGCHI Toulouse.

Authors' Addresses

Catherine Marshall
CollabTech
Garden Rd., Ste. 201
Monterey, CA 93940, USA
tel: +1-408-645-9140
crm@collabtech.com

David G. Novick
European Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Engineering (EURISCO)
4 avenue Edouard Belin, 31400 Toulouse France
tel: +33-5 62 17 38 38
fax +33-5 62 17 38 39
novick@onecert.fr

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Vol.29 No.1, January 1997
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