Gerrit van der Veer
After years of volunteer investment, SIGCHI is now at the center of the HCI network in North America, Europe, and the Pacific Rim. South of the border, however, is a different story. We meet occasionally with some of our Latin American colleagues at our conferencestypically only about 25 when CHI is held in North America and less whenever CHI moves to Europe.
But things are changing. Adjunct Chair for Developing Worlds Zhengjie Liu and IFP Liaison John Karat have initiated a movement to grow CHI activities in Latin America and other regions. In response, local organizers Alfredo Sánchez, Clarisse de Souza, and Raquel Prates organized a workshop in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on July 11 to 13. They managed to bring together 18 HCI professionals from both industry and academia, from Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, and Argentina, all of whom worked with five SIGCHI Executive Committee members.
Brazil is the fifth-largest country in the world by size and by population. It is also the only Portuguese-speaking country in this part of the world. We learned from six professionals from industry and academia about the activities of the Brazilian Computer Society surrounding HCI, about HCI in academia (research is rare, and mainly government funded; HCI education is often a one- or two-week course taught by a professor who is unqualified) and in industry (which shows no interest in academic research), as well as about the scattered HCI events and networks. There is an initiative to connect local communities through Facebook.
All other countries in Latin America use Spanish as the main scientific and education language. Four colleagues from Mexico, which is close to Brazil in terms of population, showed us the current state of HCI in the country, as far as information is available. Although there is a Mexican HCI society, it seems that related disciplines like psychology and anthropology focus on different areas, and computer science is usually not interested in HCI. Large companies have their HCI research done somewhere else.
HCI professionals from Guatemala, Colombia, and Chile seem to agree about the low publishing rank for HCI-related research, the low level of education in academia, and the lack of support to participate in relevant international events. Industry is interested mainly in usability, and some companies have installed usability labs. Remarkably, the usability community in Colombia counts more than one thousand people, many of whom are members of the Usability Professionals Association (UPA); a small number are connected to SIGCHI. There are also missionary HCI professionals. For example, Christian Rusu from Chile also lectures in Peru and Bolivia. Finally, IBM is active in HCI in Argentina and Brazil, bringing HCI professionals to both of these countries.
The local HCI champions persuaded us to do something. We are now going to consider producing a promotional event, tentatively named A Taste of HCI. We will submit requests for support from the SIGCHI Development Fund, a membership-funded pot of money to help isolated HCI champions start up new initiatives that lack sufficient bottom-up support. If those local volunteers identify an opportunity, we will consider relating it to our SIGCHI Public Policy Group. Our Education Group is standing by to consider a SIGCHI-specific "courses to go" program, analogous to ACM's Distinguished Speakers program, but customized for the context. We will consider publishing translated material, with the help of local volunteers, targeted to different groups.
The biannual HCI conference CLIHC (trilingual, with some contributions in English) has so far alternated between Mexico and Brazil. We expect it will change into a "workshop to go," which can be affiliated with any more or less relevant event (e.g., a computer science conference), and that we will happily embrace as a fully SIGCHI-sponsored, specialized conference. On the last day of the meeting, I could happily endorse the newborn Latin American HCI community, which is now featured on SIGCHI's website (see http://www.sigchi.org/communities/laihc).
Gerrit C. van der Veer
President, ACM SIGCHI
©2012 ACM 1072-5220/12/0900 $15.00
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