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XXVII.4 July - August 2020
Page: 104
Digital Citation

SIGCHI’s quick response in a time of crisis

Helena Mentis, David Shamma, Andrew Kun, Neha Kumar, Julie Williamson, Regan Mandryk

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As it became evident at the end of February that Covid-19 was leading to an international crisis, the SIGCHI Executive Committee had to quickly determine how to respond. This entailed multiple decision points, including some immediate calls as well as some longer-term planning. Here we outline some of the decisions that transpired and what they mean for the future of the organization and our 24 conferences.

Physical conferences. In February, three conferences that were to be held in person were imminent: IUI, HRI, and CHI. Our first concern was the safety of our volunteers and delegates. However, we also wanted to make sure that the scientific exchange that is centered around our conferences continues. Finally, we worked toward minimizing SIGCHI's financial losses. On this latter issue, the first two conferences were not very large and both are co-sponsored with other organizations, so the losses SIGCHI incurred were not significant. Our larger problem was CHI 2020, which was supposed to be held in Honolulu, Hawaii. Deciding when to act was tougher, as we were balancing loss mitigation with ethics and care for our community [1]. We commend the team of volunteers and ACM staff for their continual monitoring and decision making that led to reasonable losses and a suitable virtual alternative in the short amount of time we had to turn everything around. Moving forward, most of the SIGCHI conferences between now and December have moved to a virtual format; our VP for conferences has been in constant contact in supporting those decisions. The CHI 2021 general chairs are continuing to monitor the situation and are exploring a hybrid model [2].

Most of the SIGCHI conferences between now and December have moved to a virtual format.


Virtual conference support. The SIGCHI VP for operations and the Operations Committee quickly jumped into action at the start of March to develop a remote presentation guide [3] as well as to help our newly virtual conferences present paper DOIs and videos of talks right in the new SIGCHI Progressive Web App [4]. More important, they streamlined the process of moving uploaded videos from PCS to the ACM DL, which ensured that all CHI 2020 paper authors would be able to share their recorded talk.

Now that we have moved past the immediate challenges, we have turned our attention to longer-term planning in this uncertain time for our conferences, events, and community's needs. Overall, we are choosing to take this as an opportunity to thoughtfully evaluate our practices and determine the best way to continue to support our community.

Conference publications costs. The VP for publications has already provided some information on how the costs for reviewing and publishing our conferences' content is incorporated into the registration costs of our conferences [5]. As of this writing, we are continuing to discuss with the ACM and our conferences how best to proceed. For now, SIGCHI has reserves in order to cover short-term losses such as these. As we work to establish a fair model, we should be able to do so for a little while longer.

Virtual conference budgets. In the wake of fully virtual conferences, it was not immediately clear how our conferences should plan their budgets. This is particularly important from SIGCHI's perspective, as the small return the conferences usually report back to SIGCHI is reinvested in long-term infrastructure such as CVENT, PCS, QOALA, and the video-capture team. Thus, we had to provide some guidelines. Our recently instituted virtual conference budgeting policy continues to support our community by stating that conferences that had to move to an all-virtual or hybrid model are not responsible for cancellations of physical venues and food services—SIGCHI will continue to cover these losses. However, virtual conferences need to include all expenses related to the conference, including any additional software expenses incurred when going virtual. In addition, virtual conferences need to include a return to SIGCHI that is the larger of the following two values: a) 10 percent of the budget of the virtual (or hybrid) conference or b) the return from the last approved budget for a physical conference. In this way, SIGCHI can continue to maintain cross-cutting support. This will probably mean that virtual conferences will have a registration fee associated with them, although it will be smaller than when the event is physically located.

Global support mechanisms. Many of our global support mechanisms were to support travel (e.g., SIGCHI student travel grants) and other physical meeting expenses (e.g., summer/winter schools through the SIGCHI Development Fund, SIGCHI Chapter grants). We first put a hold on these expenses, canceling the April/May cycles of funding, as we had to see how the overall conference expenses would deplete our ability to support the community in other ways. We now feel confident that we can open these funds up again—although the awards may be smaller—for needs not associated with travel (e.g., virtual registrations) and events that follow social distancing guidelines in their specified locations. We are also aiming to build a stronger online global community in the coming months, while travel restrictions remain.

SIGCHI leadership and conference leadership are continuing to reassess and discuss potential avenues. We will do our best to make timely decisions and share the thoughts and reasoning behind those decisions with the community. None of our decisions have been easy and straightforward; even seemingly small changes require much planning and work. But one thing we can say: The past few years of organization and infrastructure updates have ensured that our organization is impressively resilient and innovative in the face of one of the largest crises we ever might see.

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Helena Mentis, SIGCHI President, [email protected]

David Ayman Shamma, SIGCHI Vice President for Operations, [email protected]

Andrew Kun, SIGCHI Interim Vice President for Conferences, [email protected]

Neha Kumar, SIGCHI Vice President at Large, [email protected]

Julie R. Williamson, SIGCHI Vice President for Publications, [email protected]

Regan Mandryk, SIGCHI Adjunct Chair for CHI, [email protected]

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The Digital Library is published by the Association for Computing Machinery. Copyright © 2020 ACM, Inc.

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