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Shaping the Roles to be Played During the 21st Century by Local Chapters of ACM SIGCHI

The annual CHI conference serves as a benchmark of sorts for SIGCHI. How well SIGCHI is doing seems to be reflected in the nature and success of this conference and is discussed by lots of conference attendees and presenters and extensively at the SIGCHI Extended Executive Committee meeting that immediately follows the conference.

The annual CHI conference serves as a benchmark of sorts for SIGCHI. How well SIGCHI is doing seems to be reflected in the nature and success of this conference and is discussed by lots of conference attendees and presenters and extensively at the SIGCHI Extended Executive Committee meeting that immediately follows the conference.

The annual CHI conference has increasingly served as a benchmark of sorts for CHI Local SIGs as well. How well CHI Local SIGs are doing seems to be reflected in the nature and success of the full-day CHI Local SIGs workshop held during the CHI conference and is discussed increasingly by conference attendees and presenters and increasingly at the SIGCHI Extended Executive Committee meeting that immediately follows the conference.

As we enter the 21st century, the success of SIGCHI, the success of the CHI conference, and the success of CHI Local SIGs have become intertwined. The overwhelming success of CHI 2000 in The Hague, The Netherlands has been attributed in no small amount to the increasing number and success of CHI Local SIGs in Europe and to the support provided by SIGCHI.NL, The Netherlands chapter of ACM SIGCHI. Yet, CHI Local SIGs still feel undervalued by SIGCHI, and some people don't appear to be particularly fond of the increasing proliferation of CHI Local SIGs around the world.

Here is a peek at some of the goings-on at CHI 2000 regarding CHI Local SIGs. First are some words about my 4th annual Local SIGs workshop, then come portions of my oral report to the SIGCHI Extended Executive Committee about the state of CHI Local SIGs, and lastly are a few words about what some call SIGCHI's attempt to "colonize" the world.

The CHI 2000 Local SIGs Workshop

Representatives of 27 CHI Local SIGs from 18 countries came together for a full day during CHI 2000 to consider the roles their organizations now play and might play during the new century. Those assembled represented a wide variety of CHI Local SIGs: some had been officially chartered by ACM, others were in various stages of startup; some were student chapters, others were professional chapters; some were the first CHI local sigs to be formed, others were newly prospective; some served large geographies, others served small areas; some served large numbers of people, others served only a few; some served entire countries, others served metropolitan regions, one served three entire U.S. states.

We examined the relationships of these Local SIGs with:

·          their constituencies
Perhaps not surprisingly, the roles played and to be played by the represented Local SIGs vary considerably. We discussed these many roles as well as the different roles members of the constituencies (individual chapter members, non-members, volunteers, sponsors, organizations, ...) play in the life of the Local SIGs.

·          the Internet
The Internet is playing an increasing role in the success of CHI Local SIGs. We looked at how the Internet has been changing some Local SIGs and explored how it might change others.

·          SIGCHI, ACM, and other CHI Local SIGs
At the CHI 99 workshop, we considered proposals to link SIGCHI and CHI Local SIG membership and to establish a Local SIG Congress. We reexamined these concepts and their motivation, and we identified other ways in which these key relationships could be improved.

·          other HCI organizations
We examined the relationships other HCI organizations have with Local SIGs and with SIGCHI, and we discussed the implications for all involved. Uncertainties about some of these relationships have been largely responsible for some people's criticism of the spread of CHI Local SIGs around the world.

·          the government of their country
In the past, Local SIG activities and benefits appeared to be differentially constrained by the relationship ACM and CHI Local SIGs had with the government of the Local SIGs' home country. We revisited those constraints to identify steps that should be taken towards changing those relationships, if changes would be beneficial.

Many thanks to all the Local SIG representatives: Verena Giller (SIGCHI Austria), Karin Coninx (BelCHI), Raquel Oliveira Prates (Brazil SIGCHI), Ronald Laurids Boring (CapCHI), Rob Harvie (ToRCHI), Sidney Fels (VanCHI), Pavel Slavik (Czech SIGCHI), Morten Borup Harning (SIGCHI.DK), Timo Jokela (Finland SIGCHI), Said Tazi (Toulouse SIGCHI), Peter Gorny (German SIGCHI), Avi Parush (Israel SIGCHI), Maria Francesca Costabile (SIGCHI Italy), Cuauht_moc Rivera Loaiza (CHI-MEXICO), Aldo Paula (SIGCHI.NL), Nuno Ribeiro (Universidade Fernando Pessoa SIGCHI), Jacques Hugo (CHI-SA), Christina von Dorrien & Lena Magnusson (West Sweden CHI), Daniel Felix (SwissCHI), Richard Anderson (BayCHI), Donald Day (DC_CHI), Stacie Hibino (CHI-Squared), Carolyn Gale (KATCHI), Ann Marie McKinnon (GB/SIGCHI), Diane Miller (LowellCHI), Tom Brinck (MOCHI), & Marilyn Tremaine (PhiCHI). Thanks also to members of the SIGCHI Extended Executive Committee who participated: Steven Pemberton, Bob Mack, John Karat, Michael Tauber, & Marilyn Tremaine. And many thanks to Paul Henning and his staff in the CHI conference office.

Portions of My Report on CHI Local SIGs to the SIGCHI Extended Executive Committee

The state of the world of CHI Local SIGs is very, very, very good. It is important to not forget this overall, big picture.

However, Local SIGs still feel undervalued by SIGCHI. The situation has improved greatly in recent years -- and I do mean greatly, but there is still room for improvement.

Needed is additional improvement in the extent to which Local SIGs' existence and contribution and capability are acknowledged and turned to and respected by SIGCHI. Examples of where that hasn't happened adequately include:

·          in conference site selection and conference development
CHI Local sigs have not been involved at all or only minimally and late in many cases. This is something we addressed during the Local SIGs workshop with Michael Tauber, SIGCHI Vice Chair of Conference Planning, and I feel confident things will now improve.

·          in other SIGCHI decisions and activities
For example, the Chair of SIGCHI Italy reported learning of "in cooperation status" having been granted to a conference in Italy without her awareness. She wasn't asking to be the one to grant approval; she just wanted to have known about it and given the opportunity to provide input in advance. Who better to provide good input to the decision of whether or not to grant such status than the local chapter?

·          in public recognition of accomplishments
The monthly local sig sampler I compile and post to the chi-announcements mailing list is one way we've gotten better at this. Yet, the CHI 2000 SIGCHI Business Meeting presentation of SIGCHI accomplishments over the past year did not include any reference to the many amazing accomplishments of CHI Local SIGs. Several Local SIG leaders attended the meeting and were troubled by this exclusion.

·          in SIGCHI's communication with SIGCHI members
We provide a CHI Local SIGs webpage on the SIGCHI website, the local chapters have been listed in every issue of the Bulletin for a long time, etc. etc., but Local SIG leaders have identified some additional opportunities for SIGCHI to communicate with its members about CHI Local SIGs. For example, new or renewing SIGCHI members use membership forms and receive membership letters which include no word about the existence of CHI Local SIGs; might letters sent to members when they join inform them of a CHI Local SIG in their area, or might...?

I believe there should also be improvement to the more tangible benefits provided by SIGCHI to members of CHI Local SIGs. Leaders of prospective CHI Local SIGs often ponder whether the tangible benefits provided to their members warrant the bother to become officially chartered. Those hesitations appeared ready to vanish when Marilyn Tremaine told workshop attendees of the possibility of giving Local SIG members access to all SIGCHI items in the ACM Digital Library.

We might particularly need to better address the needs of Local SIGs in soft-currency countries and the needs of student chapters. For example, neither are able to take advantage of SIGCHI's tutorials-to-go program as it is presently defined; greater flexibility in the program might help, as might making available videotapes of CHI conference tutorials (as ACM has proposed).

Note that in the past, Local SIG leaders have all very much wanted their members to be able to register at SIGCHI conferences at SIGCHI member rates. However, SIGCHI's new cooperating society policy which has resulted in NO breaks on registration fees for members of other organizations seems to have eliminated this desire. But if cooperating societies are granted this break in the future, expect the desire to return.

Local SIGs also need additional help from SIGCHI in their dealings with ACM. For example, some of the required local chapter bylaws remain inappropriate for non-U.S. countries, and there continue to be problems with ACM's responsiveness. Note that based on the input of Local SIG leaders at the workshop, no Local SIG in Europe or elsewhere believes they have any need for any help or change regarding their status or lack thereof as a legal entity in their country, at least not at this time.

Things in progress or things I and/or others advocate to address all of these kinds of issues include the following:

·          a CHI Local SIG Congress
The annual workshop is a Local SIG Congress of sorts, but more can be done to make it a better and more effective body of local sig representatives, a body that can provide guidance to SIGCHI, ACM, and CHI Local SIGs.

·          other groupings/umbrellas of Local SIGs
There has been alot of talk about forming a European umbrella of CHI Local SIGs, and other groupings are happening or are being discussed, such as a Nordic umbrella and connections among Spanish-speaking Local SIGs across continents. Connections among Local SIGs with similar issues/problems/perspectives offer considerable value.

·          an updated Local SIG model
CHI Local SIGs come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and types, and maybe some of those differences need to be better acknowledged and dealt with rather than continuing use of the old and perhaps too simplistic, single concept of a Local SIG. For example, national organizations & large non-national organizations are different kinds of entities with different kinds of needs than alot of other Local SIGs. And KATCHI is an example of a Local SIG with a role that is more narrowly defined than most -- it exists to be a local point of contact only (a partial answer to SIGCHI's desire to reach out to locations where there is presently not much happening in the area of HCI); should requirements imposed on such CHI Local SIGs be the same as requirements imposed on the others?

·          the ability to become a member of SIGCHI and a member of a CHI Local SIG at the same time
This does NOT necessarily mean that Local SIG membership become a certain type of SIGCHI membership, as has been proposed in the past; in fact, there does not appear to be much desire among Local SIG leaders for this. However, web-based tools under development by ACM might enable one to initiate or renew membership in Local SIGs and in SIGCHI at the same time. (These tools might also provide a mechanism for enabling Local SIG member access to SIGCHI items in the ACM Digital Library.) There is some concern about whether ACM's tools will be adequately usable, and some Local SIGs will be hesitant to give up the use of the systems they already have in place. But...

·          an elected Vice Chair for Local SIGs/Activities
Such a position would provide more visible evidence to Local SIGs that SIGCHI really gives a damn.

·          an award for accomplishment by or within CHI Local SIGs
Let's publicly reward exceptional instances of the services and programs and community that CHI Local SIGs provide or of the people who make it happen.

AntarctiCHI, AfriCHI, CHIzakhstan, CHIna

During the SIGCHI Extended Executive Committee meeting in The Hague, Joe Konstan, with a laugh, passed me a slip of paper on which he had written the above suggestions for the names of future CHI Local SIGs. (A look at SIGCHI's Local SIGs webpage will reveal that they would fit in nicely with many of the names CHI Local SIGs have chosen for themselves.) Although Joe was just having fun, people from all over are interested in HCI, SIGCHI, and CHI Local SIGs. Rumor has it that the record attendance of CHI 2000 came from a record number of countries, and the spread of CHI Local SIGs around the world shows no signs of slowing.

However, some of those interested in HCI and SIGCHI and in starting a CHI Local SIG reside in locations served by other HCI organizations. And in some cases, when we respond to those people (such as after several of them stop by the Local SIGs booth at the CHI conference to tell us of their interest), we are scolded -- we are chastised for attempting to "colonize" the world.

SIGCHI.NL is an example of a Local SIG that formed with the support of an already existing HCI organization in the country (see the January 99 column). Variations of this story can be told for other Local SIGs; in some cases, the Local SIGs formed because the existing HCI organizations were not meeting their members' needs. And several countries are being served by multiple, successful HCI organizations. So, should we automatically turn away when people in locations served by other HCI organizations express an interest? Should we generate a list of locations for which we should turn away? What criteria should we use if we created such a list? What roles, if any, do you think a CHI Local SIG can play in a location already well-served by another HCI organization?

Let me know what you think.

Richard I. Anderson, Local SIGs Chair

Richard I. Anderson is SIGCHI's Adjunct Chair for Local SIGs and is BayCHI's Program Chair.  He is an independent consultant; he teaches courses on Usability Engineering and User-Centered Design and spends much of his effort focused on identifying organization obstacles to user-centered design and ways to address them.


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