XVIII.1 January + February 2011
Page: 8
Digital Citation

The role of communities at CHI 2011 and beyond

Arnie Lund, Bo Begole

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SIGCHI has from the beginning been a community of communities. The field of human-computer interaction is built on the principles of diversity, balance, collaboration, and evolution. The strength of SIGCHI lies in seeing problems from multiple viewpoints and integrating expertise from multiple domains to find solutions and drive the creation of new technologies. New communities of practice bring fresh perspectives by sharing research findings and methods in those areas, stimulating innovation, and attracting and nurturing new researchers and practitioners—sometimes leading to further specialized communities. At times the original vision that serves as the catalyst for community disappears into the diversity of its impact on the field of human-computer interaction. The life cycle of community change is the engine of the evolution of the field.

Recognizing that some of the characteristics of the CHI conference were not reflecting the needs of many communities within SIGCHI, the CHI 2006 conference introduced formal recognition of six new communities. SIGCHI's challenge was to take advantage of the diversity in bringing a larger community together at CHI, while gaining some of the benefits that often come with smaller conferences focused on specific topics. The goal of introducing a formal community structure to CHI was to enable the communities themselves to help shape the conference program. Since then, some communities have disappeared and others have transformed. The ways in which communities have affected the conference have also changed from year to year as different conference committees formed. As intended, communities have successfully introduced a variety of innovations to the program while also energizing content in existing venues. We now have the design expo and community-invited speakers, while Papers and Notes, Interactionary, Case Studies, and alt.chi have had increasingly high-quality content by drawing on community expertise in the selection processes. Papers and Notes has recently evolved into an organization that partially parallels the community's structure.

Yet still, when talking with people who are disillusioned with the CHI conference in particular and sometimes with SIGCHI itself, you hear variations on "the things I'm interested in aren't being represented." It might be that the work they care about doesn't make it through the review process. It might be that they don't see anything that makes an impact on their professional life after the conference. It might be they can not find the people with whom they naturally affiliate as they navigate from session to session. With so many different content venues at CHI, it may be they can't find the venue to submit content to that would allow them to effect change. Interestingly, the needs often expressed are ones the community structure intended to meet. Clearly, some gap between the vision and reality of the formal community structure remains.

The intention for communities at CHI is to encourage contributions and highlight content across all of the CHI program venues that relate to the community's focal interests. For CHI 2011 we are launching a multiyear process to take the concept of communities within the conference forward with the following core objectives.

  • Migrate to a process where communities can self-organize, apply for a role within the conference, and be leveraged by SIGCHI leadership and conference organizers to advance strategic goals for the community and the field of HCI.
  • Create opportunities for communities to network and to advance their agendas within the community and across the conference.
  • Leverage the ability of communities to enroll their members in participating in the content-selection processes, and continue to evolve ways for the communities to ensure the unique properties of their cultures and content are reviewed appropriately, while maintaining the overall level of excellence and innovation that characterizes the CHI conference.
  • Enable the communities to innovate in content types, venues for presentation, and in identifying and advancing the best work in their areas; and harvest those innovations as appropriate to contribute year over year conference improvements.

We have come to realize there are two types of communities. "Core communities" are communities of practice that apply across HCI as a discipline; almost all HCI-oriented work involves the use of methods from each of the core communities: user experience, design, engineering, and management. "Featured communities" tend to be more domain-oriented than the cross-cutting core communities. The goals of adding featured communities to CHI include, on the one hand, providing an environment in which community members can incubate and grow their communities, and where, at the same time, the conference will be enriched with a wider variety of contributions, participants, and innovation in how content is presented across all of the program categories. The featured communities for CHI 2011 will be health, games and entertainment, sustainability, and child-computer interaction. This set of featured communities was selected from proposals submitted to the CHI 2011 Communities Chair. The set of featured communities at CHI will likely change from year to year. Please visit the CHI 2011 Communities online ( for more details about the communities selected for CHI 2011.

Instituting a new community within the conference is no small feat. It requires a multiyear commitment from a group of dedicated people representing a substantial segment of the CHI audience. A community typically involves more people, by an order of magnitude (hundreds) than a workshop or special-interest group (tens). Both workshops and special-interest groups, however, are good places to begin the exploration of a prospective community. Successful, long-lasting communities will have the dedication to identify leaders to represent the community within the CHI program over multiple years. The work of these leaders involves encouraging contributions from the community across the standard CHI venues, identifying and recruiting experts to review submissions, proposing and coordinating special events for that community in the conference program (e.g., invited talks or special venues), and identifying and publicizing the parts of the program that are particularly relevant to that community.

Interestingly, the needs that are often expressed are ones that the community structure intended to meet. Clearly, some gap between the vision and reality of the formal community structure remains.

We are working with the community chairs to more actively engage their members in the process, and to tag reviewers and content by communities of interest. We will address more community-based feedback to shape ongoing improvements. At CHI 2011 we are taking initial steps to further increase the level of direct community influence on the program, and the expectation is that these steps will increase year over year. CHI has frequently made space for new content innovations and explored new ways of presenting content, which will surely continue to evolve with the growing participation of members from each community.

back to top  Call to Action

The field of human-computer interaction is inherently multi-disciplinary, comprising multiple communities of practice. Unlike a melting pot, however, the CHI conference does not intend to assimilate the multiple viewpoints into a unified perspective. Rather, the communities structure of the conference allows CHI attendees of varying backgrounds and interests to look through multiple aspects of the CHI lens to generate new insights and drive innovation. The existing core communities provide examples of self-sustained organizations upon which the CHI 2011 featured communities can build to further energize the conference for everyone. We invite you all to participate in the communities' activities at CHI 2011 and to contribute ideas and energy to communities at CHI for years to come!

back to top  Authors

Arnie Lund is principal director of user experience and user experience community lead for Microsoft's IT organization. He began his career at AT&T Bell Laboratories in applied research. Lund received his B.A. in chemistry from the University of Chicago, and his Ph.D. in experimental psychology from Northwestern University. He is a member of the SIGCHI Academy, and he co-chaired the CHI conferences in 1998 in Los Angeles and 2008 in Florence, Italy. Currently he serves as the Communities Chair for CHI 2011. He has more than 20 patents and patents pending, and has published widely in the areas of natural-user interfaces and emerging technologies, and UX management. He is on the editorial board for the International Journal of Speech Technology, and on the advisory board for the Journal of Usability Studies. He is the author of the forthcoming book Leading User Experience: Essential Management Skills for UX Teams (Morgan Kaufmann).

Bo Begole is a principal scientist at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) where he leads PARC's ubiquitous computing research area. His ambition is to invent and commercialize novel interactive systems that eliminate technology barriers between information and people by making systems that are smarter about what the user is trying to accomplish. He holds several patents and has published dozens of papers in peer-reviewed venues in the field of human-computer interaction and computer supported cooperative work. He is the author of the forthcoming book Ubiquitous Computing for Business (FT Press, April 2011). Currently, Begole serves as technical program co-chair for the 2011 ACM conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI2011). He received a Ph.D. in computer science from Virginia Tech in 1998. Prior to that, he served in the U.S. Army from 1981–92 as an Arabic language interpreter.

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back to top  Figures

UF1Figure. The CHI 2011 Committee.

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©2011 ACM  1072-5220/11/0100  $10.00

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