How Does CHI Happen?
As we move into the conference, we thought it would be interesting to give a peek behind the curtain and describe some of the work that it takes to get CHI done. Especially this year, CHI is a big and complex beast.
How did it end up in New Orleans?
Locations for the conference are chosen by the CHI Steering Committee (https://chi.acm.org/). The SC is comprised of former general chairs, technical program chairs, papers chairs and a representative from SIGCHI Access. They have already done a long blog post (https://chi.acm.org/what-is-the-site-selection-process-for-chi-conferences/) on how site selection happens. Key for us, the site is chosen well before any volunteers are recruited for the organizing committee.
Cliff was there for that decision, and there were lots of great reasons to pick New Orleans. UIST had recently had a successful conference there. The convention center was more than capable of meeting our needs. The site is relatively inexpensive compared to others. And NOLA is one of the US’s great cities.
How do General Chairs get picked?
Being a General Chair for CHI is a tough gig. When the Steering Committee is picking General Chairs, they are looking for people with long experience with the conference, or with other leadership roles successfully completed in SIGCHI. For this year, they chose Cliff, and he asked Simone to partner up with him. When thinking about the team, you want a series of good components in place. Both members should be experienced, and it’s helpful if they have complementary experiences. It’s helpful if they come different research areas, or represent different groups in SIGCHI (across a wide variety of dimensions). And of course, they should hopefully work well together.
General chairs have to be approved by the CHI Steering Committee and the SIGCHI Executive Committee. Cliff and Simone have been working on CHI2022 since January 2020.
What do General Chairs do? In describing this to our own team, we often joke that our biggest role is to be in charge of the budget. That’s a big job, especially this year when there were so many unknowns introduced by the pandemic and our hybrid conference. Another important role is to solicit the rest of the large crew of volunteers needed to make the conference run. We interact most closely with the vendors, writing statements of work, interviewing vendors, selecting them, working with them on their many aspects of the conference and deciding on the “experience” elements of the conference with them. Finally, it’s our job to balance all of the needs of the conference, meeting as many of them as we can with the budget we have. Oh, and we pick the keynotes!
How do Technical Program Chairs get picked?
The TPC role is huge. They manage all of the technical content of the conference. Every piece of content we have flows through them. They set policies, work with the chairs of the different programs in CHI, set the schedule for the conference, and work on all of the technical systems that comprise our back end, like PCS and QOALA.
In picking TPCs, you want people who have shown strong leadership in multiple roles in CHI or other SIGCHI activities. Technical expertise is a plus. In general, they have to be able to communicate effectively with a massively distributed team, resolve structural and individual issues quickly and effectively and work with all other aspects of the program to make sure the content matches the overall goals of the conference. TPCs are proposed by the General Chairs, and also have to be approved by the Steering Committee and the SIGCHI Executive Committee.
How do the Equity, Justice and Accessibility Chairs get picked?
This year, we created a new role for EJA chairs. This is in response to some discussions we’ve had for the past four years about equity issues, and when it is best to address them. The short answer is: the earlier the better. Therefore we wanted to have the EJA chairs as part of our planning process from the very beginning, and part of every decision making meeting.
We wanted EJA chairs who had long experience advocating for Equity and Justice in CHI and SIGCHI activities. We were looking for people who had shown leadership on these issues, and could help shape equitable practices.
The EJA chairs attend all of the meetings with the GCs and TPCs, which also includes many of our vendors. They lead a large team of additional volunteers with specific remits like accessibility, sustainability, allyship, family inclusion and more. They have helped shape many of the services and practices we have at the conference this year.
How do Papers Chairs get picked?
The Papers Chairs are in charge of the Papers program, which generates a good amount of content for the conference. Because of the complexity of the role, Papers Chairs are proposed by the TPCs, and have to be approved by the Steering Committee and Executive Committee. Papers chairs are often selected from existing Sub Committee Chairs, since that group has the most experience with the CHI Papers reviewing processes. This year, Steve was willing to carry over from having been a chair in 2021, creating continuity between years as well. The Papers chairs select and manage the Sub Committee chairs, who in turn select and manage Associate Chairs, who then select and manage external reviewers. It’s a massive undertaking, and we can’t thank this group enough.
How do the other chairs get picked?
The rest of the organizing committee was solicited via an open call for volunteers. We did that this year because we wanted to avoid over-depending on volunteers with whom we already had familiarity – which can lead people to have trouble breaking into CHI leadership roles. Almost all of our roles (about 120 people) were selected from this list of people who answered the open call. These selections were made by the GCs, TPCs and EJA chairs. This has enabled us to have many people who are leading a CHI team for the first time, which we think is a fantastic outcome.
How did you decide to have a hybrid conference?
Hooboy, Covid. As we all know, the past two years of CHI have been extremely affected by the pandemic. This year, we were also strongly affected, and at different points in our organizing over the last two years, it was really uncertain what the world would look like when the conference started.
With a lot of feedback from the community, we persisted in planning for an in-person CHI, but knew we would have to offer a strong online option for attending as well. The phrase we used often in our meetings was “no second class experiences” to guide our commitment to making both modes of CHI attendance as meaningful as we could make them.
There were a lot of unanticipated challenges to running a hybrid conference. We had to up our AV delivery considerably, and spent a lot of time talking to AV companies who would make an effective partner for us. Finding the right online platform was surprisingly challenging given the mix of needs that we have. Really, overall, it’s like planning two massive conferences at the same time. The future of hybridity for CHI will be an active conversation in coming years.
What does an average week look like in organizing?
Things definitely change by time. In the few months leading up to the conference, the General Chairs have 8-10 meetings a week with different teams. The entire “executive team” meets twice a week – which includes our TPCs, GCs, EJA chairs, chairs assistants, vendors, the ACM and whomever else can make it depending on the agenda. We meet separately with different vendors to talk virtual conference set up, food and beverage decisions, keynote preparation, AV set ups or whatever else needs to happen. We use Basecamp for most of our organizing, and respond to several hundred Basecamp messages a week. It’s a lot of communication, consensus building, decision making and listening as different issues arise.
CHI is a major enterprise that requires (considering all of the people who volunteered their time reviewing) thousands of people to make happen. Our fervent hope is that both the in-person and online event are meaningful for everyone attending. Our tagline is “Cultivating Communities” and the appropriate work we’ve done is to use all of the tools at our disposal to interact with, listen to, and work with the different communities that make up the CHI Conference. We hope to see you either in NOLA, or online, in just a couple of weeks.