Feedback on Having an In-Person Event for CHI 2022

Feedback on Having an In-Person Event for CHI 2022

Published: October 14, 2021 at 20:25 UTC*

We want to thank everyone who participated in the survey for taking the time to provide their thoughts and feedback. We had over 900 responses, and we appreciate the time people took to help inform us. We’ve looked at both the responses and the open-ended comments, which were very helpful. Based on some suggestions in those open responses, we wanted to start with a few bits of clarification that might be helpful.

The Plan Has Always Been to Have an Online Option

From the beginning of our planning, there has been a plan to have a strong online program for CHI2022. This has been made urgent by the pandemic, but was also in long term plans given equity and sustainability concerns about the conference.  Given everyone’s concerns about equity, climate change, expense and more—we firmly believe that CHI will go forward with a strong online program. The future of CHI is hybrid.

The Organizing Committee Has Limited Options in What We Can Change

Locations and dates for the conference are chosen years before the actual event, and long before any volunteer (including general chairs) is recruited to participate. We have contracts in place with locations far in advance, which means that it’s not possible to simply move the conference to a different location, nor to change dates. We’ve also seen some suggestions for regional conferences, which sound great but are outside of our purview. Regional conferences would take *years* of planning, not months. We’re really limited to establishing health measures and deciding to hold the in-person event or not.

Interpreting Results of the Fall 2021 Survey

Histogram of responses to "should have unperson component" with a mean of 63 and median of 70 and a large head at 100%

As usual, the CHI community is heterogeneous in what it thinks the direction should be. In the link above, you can see some raw data. The organizing team also put together a few different views of the data to see what the overall feedback was. Q3 asks an essential question, which is whether people feel we should have an in-person conference. The mean for this response was at 63 and the median response was 70 (on a 0 to 100 scale where 0 is “should absolutely not have the in-person event” and 100 is: “should absolutely have the in-person event“). The image here shows the distribution of those responses, with a sort of dipolar pattern but with unequal poles.

Box plots by geographic region showing the median answer leans towards having an in person event.

We were also interested in whether the characteristics of the respondent shaped their behavior. For example, it’s a reasonable hypothesis that people in North America would be more likely to support an in-person conference since they might be less affected by pandemic-induced travel difficulties. However, the boxplot above shows a very different pattern rejecting that hypothesis. We were also interested in whether a person’s intention to attend shaped their sense of whether a conference should be in person. Clearly, as seen in the box and scatter plot below, there is an effect here, but there is still a good bit of variance.

Box plots by planning to attend in person showing the median answer leans towards having an in person event with the exception of those stating they will attend online.

We also went through and looked at the hundreds of open-ended responses that people were kind enough to provide. Some folks suggested major changes to the conference structure (which we respond to above) and some spoke about their individual thoughts and concerns about attending, about not attending, about the future of CHI, about the nature of scholarship, and everything else.

Overall, this survey was helpful. The community is slightly positive towards an in-person event as part of the overall CHI2022 conference. Lots of people are worried about the safety and equity of the conference, both in terms of what’s possible in the pandemic and more broadly. Many people agree with us that the future is hybrid. Importantly, nothing in the results changes how we’ve been thinking about the CHI2022 event.

We also want to share the results of Q1, which assessed a preference for attending the in-person or online channels of the conference. For us, the result is all good news. People are interested in both options we are working on. It’s also further evidence of the heterogeneous views held by the community, which we are trying to address via a “yes and” approach of making options available.Bar chart with intended mode of attendance, with 53% in-person, 44% online, and 3% neither.


How We Have Been Thinking About the In-Person Event so Far

Since the rise of the Delta variant in the summer of 2021, we’ve been looking at several principles in terms of whether we should hold the conference or not.

  • Safety: It’s certainly true there is more risk in the travel to and attendance at an in-person event. We’ve been tracking the level of risk in different ways. This includes tracking the industry of events, who as you can imagine have their own reasons for keeping a close eye on this. We’ve also been tracking the U.S. CDC recommendations, and New Orleans health department recommendations. In addition to that, we look at outcomes for the recent SIGCHI conferences RecSYS held in Amsterdam and ICMI held in Montreal. We also examine comparable non-SIGCHI conferences, like the upcoming SuperComputing conference in Missouri. Unless there is a change like a new variant in which the virus imposes greater risk, we feel confident that we can provide a decent experience with some common sense health precautions in place. Our Equity, Justice, and Access teams have been out front in making sure any health precautions provide reasonable accommodations where needed.
  • Equity: While CHI has been working for years to become more inclusive, the pandemic adds even more challenges to our shared goal of equitable access. Unequal vaccination rates, challenges with travel and quarantines, chronic health conditions, and more mean the burden of the pandemic is not equally felt globally. While the online portion of the conference is there to help mitigate that loss, we do always ask ourselves about the equitability of the in-person event.
  • Financial responsibility: CHI2022 currently has an exposure of around $1.2 million USD. This means that we already have contracts in place with the venue and local hotels where money is committed. In past conferences, we’ve been able to trigger “force majeure” clauses in our contracts to get some or most of that money back. There is no indication that the conditions this time will make us eligible for any remuneration. Nothing about the decision of the in-person conference will affect our financial investments in strong online solutions.

As of now, we are planning to have an in-person option for CHI2022. As we say above, this will be matched with what we plan to be a strong online option for attendance. We understand that many people are going to disagree with that decision. Even within our organizing committee we don’t all agree on the path forward. Considering all of the items above, we think this is the current best option. We are open to changing our minds if the factors change, or if new evidence comes to light. We appreciate everyone’s forbearance, and your willingness to share your wisdom as we move forward. We all want the best thing for CHI and most importantly, the people who make it.

Simone Barbosa & Cliff Lampe
General Chairs CHI2022

* This post was updated on 2021-10-25 to fix a bug in the script generating the charts. The analysis of the results did not change.

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