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You are here: Home 1997 Vol. 29 No. 4, October 1997 Columns World-Wide CHI: The SIGCHI International Advisory Task ForcePreliminary Report
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World-Wide CHI: The SIGCHI International Advisory Task ForcePreliminary Report

Guy Boy and David G. Novick

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SIGCHI has established an International Advisory Task Force to help address issues of the internationalization of the organization. The task force has 20 members, from Europe, Asia, Latin America and North America; Guy Boy is leading the effort. The task force was established by the SIGCHI Executive Committee at its May meeting, and is preparing a set of recommendations to be considered by the EC in fall of 1997.

As of July 1, the task force has completed an initial round of conference calls and is discussing actions to be taken. In the conference call discussions, task force members indicated that ACM and SIGCHI are committed to be truly international organizations. ACM is also planning to create a new SIG structure taking international issues into account. The ACM is currently organized in two dimensions: geographically through national chapters, and by topic through SIGs that are organized as sorts of departments of ACM. Some SIGs are large such as SIGGRAPH and SIGCHI; others are small. Not all countries have national ACM chapters. Some countries have a national computing organization that sometimes has an agreement with ACM. In the past, ACM national chapters were more important; now scientists and professionals who take an ACM card tend to belong to a SIG first, so the structure is mismatched. International representation within ACM and SIGCHI is also a problem, in that ACM has only one designated international position and SIGCHI has none. At the same time, SIGCHI should be international because (a) it is the world's leading HCI organization and (b) there is a perception that non-U.S. people tend to be marginalized systematically from participation. SIGCHI's internationalization is important in order to provide links in the field of HCI for researchers, educators, and professionals.

There are dramatic differences in the history, strength and functions of HCI communities and organizations in the countries represented in the conference call. Some countries have a strong national HCI organization, others have new organizations, and others have nascent communities with no national organization. These differences tend to be reflected in both industry and education.

Britain has an established HCI organization that is not related to SIGCHI. France has an ACM-SIGCHI chapter in Toulouse and a relatively new national organization that is not formally related to SIGCHI. Germany has a strong national ACM chapter, and a national HCI organization that is related to its national informatics organization and unrelated to ACM or SIGCHI. In the Netherlands, the national HCI group is part of the Dutch national informatics organization; a "national" local chapter of SIGCHI is in progress. In a similar way, the Czech Republic is also geographically small and the capital (Prague) is more or less the center of the country. Italy started a "national" local chapter of SIGCHI in April, 1996; the chapter is trying to establish a relationship with Italy's national ergonomics association.

Australia has a strong national HCI group affiliated with the national ergonomics organization, unrelated to SIGCHI. HCI is a relatively new field in Singapore, which does not have a national HCI organization.

Canada has local chapters of SIGCHI in Toronto and Ottawa; TorCHI is now seven years old. The Brazilian national organization for computing does not have a formal HCI group, and few undergraduate courses are available in universities. Brazilians are trying to form an HCI community, centered on a prospective ACM SIGCHI "national" local chapter to connect the nation's researchers. Mexico has an national AI group but not an HCI group; the Mexican HCI community have developed a prospective local chapter and have set up a home page. In Puerto Rico, HCI as a field is just starting up; there is no island-wide HCI organization and the University of PR is the only college or university to offer HCI courses.

The British, French, and Australian HCI organizations would like to cooperate formally with SIGCHI in some way. All three are interested in possible joint memberships, perhaps following the experimental Swiss model of joint membership in the Swiss national informatics organization and the ACM. Organizational benefits from formal association with SIGCHI might also include direct organizational aspect such as continuing joint sponsorship of conferences. The Netherlands is also considering affiliating as a "national" SIGCHI chapter. Brazil and Mexico have strong interests in organizing their national HCI communities around new SIGCHI chapters. Singapore, with its developing HCI community, may not have enough interest at this point for a formal connection to SIGCHI.

Within some countries, debate is ongoing with respect to the nature and extent of association desired. The French HCI community is exploring different kinds of connections to establish between AFIHM (Association Francophone d'Interaction Homme-Machine) and ACM. These would include making the AFIHM a cooperating society of ACM SIGCHI rather than a "chapter".

The question of "national" local chapters is an open issue. Factors that appear to be important in determining whether or not there should be a "national" local SIG involve (a) the ease of travel for meetings, (b) lack of maturity of the national HCI community, and (c) difficulty in ascertaining clearly distinct local groups. Thus in Italy, the "national" nature of the Italian SIG is "just to start", given the early stages of HCI in the country; despite the problems the Italians face in arranging meetings in such a physically large country, the HCI community is just emerging and there aren't identifiably robust local groups. In the Netherlands, the country is physically small enough to make national meetings practical, especially for an all-day mini-conference, and the nation's small size makes it hard to define which city or cities would have the local chapters because they would effectively exclude other equally important cities. France is so physically large as to make "local" chapter meetings difficult on a national scale; and the French HCI community is relatively mature, with established HCI communities in a number of cities. Brazil and Mexico, like Italy, are geographically large but have newly emerging HCI communities without identifiably robust local groups.

SIGCHI has worked hard with ACM in the last two years to restructure their relationship. SIGCHI would like higher levels of human resources, including permanent professional staff for handling administrative and financial functions like conference management. At the same time, SIGCHI would also like to address the issue of international participation. The likely outcome will be a CHI society whose relation with ACM remains to be defined. As a major part of SIGCHI's membership is not really from computer science, the CHI society could provide a more natural umbrella for this diverse membership than could ACM. CHI members should retain key benefits such as CACM.

Credibility is a factor that creates strong interest in CHI communities world-wide in a continued association with ACM. The link to ACM helps in saying that one is a member of an international computer science organization, especially in talking to people who don't even know what usability is. Moreover, SIGCHI's relationship with ACM helps with respect to both academia and industry. For example, in Italy, the link to ACM has helped to get HCI established as a new element of the computer science curriculum. In the Netherlands, SIGCHI's broader coverage extends the national HCI community, now mainly industrial, to academia. In contrast, in Brazil HCI is mostly academic and the broader coverage of SIGCHI will help attract the industrial sector into the HCI community.

Economic disparity is another factor that modulates participation by interested people in developing nations. For example, members of the HCI community in Mexico and Brazil could participate more fully in CHI-related activities if the economic situation were better; people are interested but do not have resources needed to join or to attend CHI or other SIGCHI conferences because of the cost. Even the cost of a student membership is prohibitively high for students in Mexico. In Puerto Rico, the cost of travel makes generally makes bringing in outside speakers too costly. One approach to this problem would involve following through on SIGCHI's plans to sponsor activities in developing communities through, e.g., a traveling show with the best tutorials from CHI; this idea has long been part of SIGCHI's plans and just lacks a champion with the time and energy to make it happen.

The task force is building on the results of a CHI 97 SIG on Improving International Cooperation & Communication in SIGCHI, organized by David G. Novick, John Karat and Michel Beaudoin-Lafon. Among the 45 SIG attendees were representatives from North and South America, Western and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and East Asia, as well as leaders of ACM and SIGCHI. The SIG followed a modified future-workshop approach, examining cross-national perceptions, envisaging a better future, and outlining possible plans for achieving this.

Among the perceptions identified by the SIG participants as most important were the (1) the effects of language differences, (2) differences in the way papers are written and reviewed, (3) lack of CHI awareness in some communities, and (4) a need to improve relations with other HCI-oriented societies internationally. Concerns cited with respect to language differences included lack of materials other than in English for the CHI program, abstracts and the SIGCHI Web pages, and the fact that reviewers do not comment on the suitability of native authors' language for an international readership. For example, the term "K-12" is not meaningful outside the U.S. and Canada. Other concerns cited with respect to writing and reviewing papers included differences in structure and style of writing, methods of evaluation, and reviewers' patterns of ratings. That is, American reviewers may tend to use the extremes of the rating scale more than non-Americans, thus effectively giving American reviewers a disproportionate influence on outcomes.

SIG participants envisaged that improving international cooperation and communication in SIGCHI would involve, among other things, the ACM deciding to be really international, stronger ties to national HCI organizations, more local participation through local SIGs, development of a cross-national research community, national (or language) diversity in SIG and conference leadership roles (perhaps through pairing), broader participation by developing countries, a broader `conference' program, a funded program for visiting scientists, and increased cultural sensitivity.

The CHI 97 SIG concluded by proposing possible plans for achieving this vision. These recommendations, as part of the SIG's report, were presented to the SIGCHI Executive Committee by John Karat, and were provided to the members of the International Advisory Task Force.

Members of the SIGCHI International Advisory Task Force are Felipe Almeida (BR), Richard Anderson (US), Michel Beaudoin-Lafon (FR), Guy Boy (FR, Chair), Stephane Chatty (FR), Gilbert Cockton (UK), Francesca Maria Costabile (IT), Cindy Chen (SG), Cleotilde Gonzalez (MX), Peter Gorny (DE), William Hunt (CA), John Karat (US), Jinwoo Kim (KR), Alexander Nikov (BG), David G. Novick (FR), Steven Pemberton (NL), Manual Perez Quinones (PR), Raquel Oliveria Prates (BR), Clark Quinn (AU), Andrew Sears (US), Marcin Sikorski (PL), Pavel Slavik (CZ), Klaus Unger (DE), and Denis Wixon (US).

Authors' Address

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
Email: boy@onecert.fr,
novick@onecert.fr
http://www-eurisco.onecert.fr/

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