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You are here: Home 1997 Vol. 29 No. 4, October 1997 CHI '97 CHI 97: Interviews with the Conference Co-Chairs
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CHI 97: Interviews with the Conference Co-Chairs

Steven Pemberton

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Alan and Steven admire the CHI 97 Olympic Flame before blowing it out for the last time
(Photo Ben Shneiderman)

Alan Edwards

How did you come to get involved with SIGCHI, the conference, and with the post you filled?

I have been a member of ACM since 1976. In 1984 I became a member of the technical staff and liaison to the Human Interface program at MCC (Microelectronics and Computer Consortium). The Technical director was Bill Curtis and he introduced us to SIGCHI. The following year we all attended the 1985 SIGCHI conference in San Francisco. I have attended every conference since.

I worked on the 1989, 1994 and 1995 conferences. With two co-authors I presented a tutorial on "Enabling technology for persons with disabilities" at the 1993, 1994 and 1995 conferences.

In 1995 I was asked if I would be willing to serve as a co-chair for a future conference. Steven and I were selected in May of 1995.

What was the state of things when you started with CHI 97?

The site and date had been selected, We needed to develop our vision, select a committee, develop a budget and hire the contractors.

What was your vision?

In conjunction with the celebration of ACM's 50th birthday we wanted to look to the future of human computer interaction and include persons who don't normally attend. Several of the areas were: the development consortium to reach out to persons in the field that do not normally attend the conference; Continue and expand on CHIKids as children are the future; increased support for students via the student volunteers; plenary speakers from outside the field; invited speakers.

What was your experience as a whole?

Positive -- The rewards of working with my co-chair and the other people on the committee including our technical program co-chairs were outstanding.

What were the highlights for you?

The people -- Having such a great group to work with on the committee and meeting new people in the field

What would you have done differently?

On a conference this size there were no major areas I would have changed.

What are you going to do now that it is all over?

Take a while to reflect and see where I am going.

That's all!

Steven Pemberton

How did you get involved with SIGCHI, the conference, and your position?

In 1993 INTERCHI (INTERACT + CHI) was coming to Amsterdam (where I live and work), and I was asked if I would be the Local Arrangements chair, since they wanted someone who knew both the conference and the city. I jumped at the chance, and it turned out to be a lot of fun. I ended up helping with the Student Volunteers in 93 as well. After that I was a Student Volunteer Co-Chair for CHI 95, and was Workshops and SIGs Co-Chair for CHI 96 when I was asked to be Conference Co-Chair for CHI 97.

What was the state of things when you started with CHI 97?

A number of things had already been arranged: principally the dates, the location, and some of the contractors. We were a little worried about the conference being the week before Easter, not knowing how that would affect attendance, so we had to budget very conservatively.

What was your vision?

Alan and I wanted to have a conference theme that was easily addressable in submissions, and we wanted to encourage visionary statements. It worked out well that 1997 was the closing of ACM's 50th Anniversary year, because we could use the future (also ACM 97's theme) as our theme.

We also went for several innovations, such as blind reviewing of papers, electronic registration, technical notes, and several other things.

What was your experience as a whole?

Extremely positive. CHI and SIGCHI are just a great group of people to work with, motivated, social, and fun. Of course, a conference the size of CHI is a lot of work, and it can be daunting receiving more email per day than you can actually deal with in a day. The worst part is having to make decisions about money, since most areas of the conference ask for more money to do this or that, all of them worthy, and having to decide who gets what is very difficult.

What were your biggest challenges?

The first was financial of course: ACM as a whole is noticing that volunteers have less time these days to give to volunteer activities, and so we tried to keep the size of the committee down to preserve the precious volunteer resource. For this reason we gave more work to contractors, which of course increases costs. Add to this the fact that we gave the conference video away for free and had an expectation of less attendees because of the dates, we were proud of the fact that we were able to cover all this, and still keep the base fee below $400.

The second was time: CHI 97 was only 11 months after CHI 96, and since we kept the same deadlines for submissions, our schedule was compressed significantly. The timeline had no slack!

What were the highlights for you?

Being asked to do it; being able to organise big parties (like the conference reception); being able to do the Development Consortium for the first time; hearing that the submissions were of above average quality; getting Douglas Coupland as plenary speaker; hearing that we'd met our financial targets.

What would you have done differently?

You can only make so many innovations per conference, since they don't have the momentum that other parts of the conference have from the experience from previous years, and therefore take up a disproportionate amount of your time. The new programs like the Development Consortium, Technical Notes, and the Late-Breaking program took a lot of extra time and effort. We had online registration for the first time as well. What I mean to say is that we did a lot of things differently anyway, and I don't think we had the capacity to do anything else new even if we'd wanted to. If we'd had more capacity, I think I would have liked to have investigated the possibility of electronic submissions.

What are you doing now that it is all over?

The SIGCHI Bulletin; helping set up a SIGCHI Netherlands local group; helping set up a SIGCHI Russia as a follow-on from the CHI 97 Development Consortium; research into software-architectural aspects of HCI; working on the HTML and CSS committees of the World Wide Web Consortium; learning to horseride; singing in a choir.

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