An Explanation of the Fees for the CHI conference
In this article, Dennis Wixon, SIGCHI's VP of Conferences, explains the recent increase in the CHI conference fees.
The conference needed to change dramatically. It was also important not to ignore the conference successes when making changes. The increased fees are part of that change. First I will review the history and second discuss the specifics of 2006. I'll also address the student fees and finally present an overview of conference expenses. However, I want to begin by apologizing to the community at large for not providing some earlier notice of the planned increase in fees. Such a warning would have provided more opportunity for people to plan.
It became clear in 2003 that the conference needed to change. * CHI 2002 and CHI 2003 had collectively lost 600K which effectively wiped out the SIGCHI fund balance and put the overall status of the SIG in jeopardy. This was a dramatic change from years past when the conference had contributed to the overall financial health of the society. * The tutorials program had been shrinking for several years. While it had contributed significantly conference surplus in years past, that too had disappeared. * An ever increasing number of submissions had resulted in acceptance rates for submission dropping to arbitrarily low levels. Everyone recognized the importance of maintaining the high quality of the accepted papers in the CHI proceedings. However, acceptance rates had gotten so low that a case could be made that acceptance ran the risk of becoming a semi-random process. * Diversity of participation was at risk with sponsors, practitioners, designers, and non-traditional researchers (e.g. ethnographers) leaving. While we had a loyal following, almost half the people who attended the conference each year were new attendees.
The first step was to reduce costs and preserve as of the value of the conference. We cut costs very aggressively, removing hundreds of thousands in expenses. To address the concerns regarding the right "cut" point for accepting submissions, CHI 2004 raised the target threshold for number of papers accepted; this was continued for CHI 2005. CHI 2005 continued aggressive cost cutting and saw an increase in attendance which lead to small surplus. However small and focused changes were not going to address all the issues that had arisen. We needed to make significant changes to the conference while preserving its strengths. For 2006 we did the following:
- We continued strong support for the technical elements of the conference,
by: adding software to support the reviewing process, continuing to support a
large papers review meeting (albeit cutting some travel funds). We added Notes
which provides for a shorter and more-targeted submissions. We also extended the
duration of the conference to four days which allows for more technical content.
- We eliminated traditional tutorials and their fees and replaced them with
courses which were embedded into the conference and had a new more flexible
structure and only a nominal fee. Part of the long term intent is to provide a
venue for "short" courses which may cover new areas of research and practice.
- We added a evening reception and job fair to serve anyone looking for job but
aimed particularly at students.
- We increased our outreach to a range of
communities including design, education, engineering, management, and research.
It's important to point out here that broader participation in the conference
benefits everyone. It provides a greater audience for every accepted work, it
opens opportunities for cross fertilization, it serves the society goal of
advancing the field, and it spreads the fixed costs of the conference more
The increase in student fees is particularly painful and it was a decision we made very reluctantly. Here is some of the background for it
- The data shows, that we kept increases for students to a minimum for a
number of years despite increased costs and massive losses.
- The proportion of
students attending the conference has been increasing dramatically in the last
few years. This is great.
- Historically, fees paid by other attendees and
tutorial fees had helped support keeping student fees low.
- Taken together an
increasing proportion of students and a low student fee were unsustainable.
- This year we more than doubled the number of student volunteers and we are increasing their housing support.
We regret the hardship for people who cannot afford to attend. For those who need to choose between attending CHI and attending other conferences, we urge you to take a careful look at the entire program (courses, technical content, job fair) and then make a decision regarding the whether or not to attend. We hope you will find sufficient value.
To provide some further data regarding attendance, here is some data on registration to as of March 8, 2006:
- 671 (39%) are ACM members paying full early registration fee.
- 560 (32%) are students paying full early registration fee.
- 326 (19%) are non members paying early registration fees.
- Other categories are 5% or less
These numbers are quite positive. The number of students registering is exceeding our projections, which is good.
In addition, some people have raised concerns about the costs of the conference. While we have made significant cuts in the overall conference budget, it's worth providing data on how the conference dollars are spent (these are direct expenses only and don't represent percentage return allocated to cover ACM and SIGCHI's expenses):
- 40% represents facilities costs (space, av, computing etc).
- 26% represents food and beverage costs (break food, reception etc).
- 16% represents all committee expenses (including all meetings, etc).
- 10% represents publications (including conference proceedings and program, etc.).
- 6% represent technical program (including reviewing software and courses, etc.).
I should point out that these are dollar costs only. We have a much more socially and financially significant contribution from all the volunteers on the conference committee, all the reviewers, the Executive Committee, the Conference Management Committee, the sponsors, the course instructors, all those who submit to the conference and all those who attend.
Finally, I would urge anyone and everyone to get directly involved. CHI is a volunteer organization and conferences are designed and run by volunteers. The strategy of the society and the conferences is set by volunteers. The conference is a partnership of the volunteers, the attendees, and the society as whole. It is nothing other than what we (yes YOU) make it.. As a first concrete step I would urge any and everyone to attend the SIGCHI business meeting on Wed evening. In the meantime, I welcome any and all feedback.