HCI Across Borders @CHI 2017

Authors: Neha Kumar
Posted: Thu, May 25, 2017 - 5:08:49

We are living in uncertain times where some borders are more visible than others. Even in our increasingly globalized cultures, as people and goods move from one place to another, across socioeconomic strata where multiple forms of translation take place between languages and disciplines, there can still be many barriers and dead ends to communication. Yet the field of human-computer interaction (HCI) is continuing to develop a more mature understanding of what a “user” looks like, where users live, and the sociotechnical contexts in which their interactions with computing technologies are situated. The time is therefore ripe to draw attention to these barriers and dead ends, physical and otherwise, hopefully enriching the field of HCI by highlighting diversity and representativeness, while also strengthening ties that transcend boundaries. 

Over a year ago, we were scrambling to put together the HCI Across Borders (HCIxB) workshop at CHI 2016 in San Jose. This was to be attended by over 70 HCI researchers and practitioners from all over the world whose work attempted to cross “borders” of different kinds. Some of these countries had never been represented at CHI before and we nervously and excitedly brainstormed about how to welcome these participants to a conference that was both exhilarating and overwhelming to attend. Multiple hectic days and nights later, and with a lot of help from SIGCHI and Facebook, it all worked out. And in three more months, we were ready to do it again! This time, it was with a team that had come together at HCIxB in San Jose, though several of us were meeting each other for the first time. This incredible, high-functioning team included Nova Ahmed from Bangladesh, Christian Sturm from Germany, Anicia Peters from Namibia, Sane Gaytan from Mexico, Leonel Morales from Guatemala, and Nithya Sambasivan, Susan Dray, Negin Dahya, and myself, who are based in the U.S. but who have spent significant portions of our lives crossing borders for HCI research. Naveena Karusala, our beloved student volunteer who helped us with much of the planning, also deserves special mention here. 

Our second year turned out to be bigger, even more successful and rewarding than the first, as we organized the first ever ACM CHI Symposium on HCI Across Borders on May 6–7, 2017. Before we could really get a handle on what was happening, 90 individuals from 22 countries were registered to attend with 65 accepted papers. Many frazzled emails were exchanged with the space management team in the weeks leading up to CHI. The range of research topics was vast and included domains that are rarely encountered in mainstream (or primarily Western) HCI research. We had asked all submissions to highlight how their work aimed to cross borders and which borders these were. The connections drawn were illuminating and groundbreaking. While one paper aimed to translate video-creation processes from a maternal health deployment to provide instruction on financial services in rural communities, another took a meta approach to unpack the area of overlap between the fields of social computing and HCI for development (HCI4D). Many submissions made gender a focus, and mobile technologies (smart and otherwise) were widely targeted. These papers are all available for reading at

The HCI Across Borders family at CHI 2017

The symposium began with introductions done madness-style as each participant took up to 45 seconds to tell everyone who they were, where they came from, and why they were attending, also sharing a fun fact about themselves (always the hardest!). This was followed by a poster session that lasted 90 minutes. Each workshop paper was represented by a poster and participants walked around the room with Post-its, leaving feedback as they deemed appropriate. Purva Yardi from the University of Michigan won Best Poster, chosen by the SIGCHI Executive Committee’s Vice President for Conferences Aaron Quigley. Purva’s paper was titled “Differences in STEM Gender Disparity between India and the United States.” Lunch followed the poster session, and then it was time for some levity. We played the silent birthday game, which required all 90 participants to arrange themselves in the order of their birthdays (month and date) without talking. There were more games organized across both days, including a round of musical chairs, which was nothing short of chaotic. We had short debrief sessions after every game, when we discussed the challenges that arise when we try to communicate across languages and other cultural norms; for example, the month-first date format that the U.S. follows is different from the one followed by most other countries.

Much of the weekend was devoted to working in teams on potential collaborations. These teams were formed based on topics of interest that emerged from the poster session. Clusters from poster topics were created by a few volunteers and teams were formed according to these clusters, also leaving room for participants to change teams as they pleased. Some of the topics that these teams worked on included education, health and gender, social computing, and displaced communities. The final deliverables for these teams included a short presentation on Sunday afternoon and a timeline for how the team planned to take their ideas forward over the following year, before we all came together (hopefully again) at the next HCIxB. Some examples included research studies that would span multiple geographies, while others were more community-focused, such as the development of a “co-design across borders” community. 

A major component of the weekend included four conversations or dialogs that we tried to have as a group. The first—“Then and Now”—was brief, entailing an introduction of HCIxB and how the community had formed over the years, dating back to CHI 2007 when a few of the people in the room had organized the Development Consortium to bring together researchers working in the “developing” world. The second was a dialog on mentorship and what it meant for those in the room to seek or offer mentorship. This conversation has led to the launch of our “Paper xChange” program for the community, whereby we will match those seeking help on a CHI 2018 submission and those willing to offer the kind of help being sought (also on On day 2, we had our third dialog to discuss the steps needed (along with potential challenges and opportunities) with regard to setting up SIGCHI chapters in cities across the world. Tuomo Kujala, the SIGCHI Vice President for Chapters, was generous enough to offer an overview. Our final dialog took place just before closing, as we wrapped up and brainstormed about how we could keep ourselves busy and growing through the year. We also had the honor of quite a few visits from the SIGCHI leadership team, who not only supported many participants so they could attend the symposium but also made us all feel welcome throughout the weekend.  

In addition to the above, there were several memorable moments and special conversations. I know I speak for many when I say that the weekend was unforgettable in so many ways. In a nutshell, it presented a window into what CHI could be if it included more voices—different voices—from across the world, and what HCI looks like when the H represents humans across countries, cultures, socioeconomic strata, genders, and ideologies, among other points of difference. Together and stronger, we move forward on our journey, as a community that is still small but growing fast, toward a truly global and representative field of human-computer interaction. Through this blog post, and other associated posts, as well as Nithya Sambasivan’s brand new forum on “The Next Billion,” we are committed to sharing more stories, research, and dreams from the HCIxB community. Stay tuned!

Posted in: on Thu, May 25, 2017 - 5:08:49

Neha Kumar

Neha Kumar is an assistant professor at Georgia Tech, working at the intersection of human-centered computing and global development.
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