SIGCHI Conferences and the Coronavirus

SIGCHI Conferences and the Coronavirus

The coronavirus and the related COVID-19 disease are unmistakably affecting the world right now, and SIGCHI is no exception. In the past weeks we have seen IUI, HRI, and most recently CHI have to cancel their annual meetings. These were not easy decisions for the conference chairs and steering committees and I commend all involved on their tireless work to thoughtfully work through how and when to cancel their events in an ever-changing landscape with no clear guide.

I first want to reassure the community that SIGCHI is in a position to try to weather this situation. Although the recent conference cancellations will be a significant unrecouped cost for the SIG, it is still unclear at this time exactly how much will be lost. SIGCHI, though, has a healthy fund balance, which I am fairly certain will ensure our ability to be responsive to opportunities and challenges moving forward.

As the SIGCHI EC is now looking ahead to the future, it is in discussions with all of our other conferences over the next year — determining timelines for contract cancellations and potential for virtual conferences. Unfortunately, this requires the SIG to be more fiscally responsible in other ways including with our community support initiatives such as the SIGCHI Development Fund and Student Travel Grant among others. Instead I will be directing resources and energy to supporting our diverse community through virtual mechanisms. In addition, the SIGCHI EC is determining how to address the costs associated with the published content in a virtual conference world. So we ask for patience as the SIGCHI EC moves forward.

Towards virtual conferences, I have a few notes to share with our greater community. First, our VP for Operations, David Ayman Shamma, and the video team, David Lindlbauer, Kashyap Todi, and Roman Rädle, have been hard at work behind the scenes putting together several documents detailing SIGCHI’s (1) Video Overview, (2) Live Streaming Guide, (3) Video Chair Guide, (4) Chair Recommendations for Video Collection and (5) Remote Presentation guide. They blogged the Remote Presentation Guide earlier this week and it details how to record a talk, properly make subtitles for accessibility, and how to encode it to a manageable file size. The Ops Video team is on hand to help all of our conferences get remote presentations made and into the SIGCHI YouTube Channel and Digital Library. Once properly collected, these assets can be used in many places: live streaming, VR, and remote presentations. If anyone has any questions or requests about video, email the video team directly.

The video team is also discussing and experimenting with fancy systems for the future. Mozilla Hubs was used at UIST 2019 already (which IEEE VR is expanding upon). This is still emergent and the video team will have formal guidance at a later date. Finally, I have also been in contact with a few of the other SIGs to start an ACM Task Force on Virtual Conferences and SIGGRAPH is already planning on live streaming a portion of their July conference. All of this is to say that the SIGCHI EC is very busy behind the scenes.

I’d like to finish by showing my deep gratitude and appreciation for the army of volunteers that work very hard for this community with little fanfare. Well, I’d like to heap on some of that fanfare right now.

First, I appreciate very much the efforts of the CHI2020 COVID-19 Task Force including the general chairs, Regina Bernhaupt and Floyd Mueller, Ashley Cozzi from the ACM, the CHI steering committee chair, Regan Mandryk, the CHI SC liaison to CHI2020, Phlippe Palanque, the SIGCHI VP for Conferences, Andrew Kun, and the Executive VP, Cliff Lampe, in responding to the rapidly evolving situation involving the COVID-19 pandemic. As events unfurled in a sporadic and unpredictable manner, they stayed vigilant and worked together to make the best decision at the right time.

In addition, I want to recognize the work of the rest of the CHI2020 Organizing Committee including Technical Program Chairs Andy Cockburn and Joanna McGrenere who have poured their hearts and souls into this conference series. I hope that, when you have the chance, you will reach out to one of these volunteers and thank them for their work.

Additionally, the organizers of IUI (led by GCs Nuria Olivier and Fabio Paternò, and TPCs Cristina Conati, Lucio Davide Spano and Nava Tintarev) and HRI (led by GCs Tony Belpaeme and James Young, and TPCs Hatice Gunes and Laurel Riek) have similarly been thoughtful and committed under difficult circumstances. Nobody spends two years working on a conference and then finds it easy to call it off.

I also appreciate the support and guidance the CHI and SIGCHI leaders have received from the ACM. Sade Rodriguez and Ashley Cozzi have been working non-stop for the past several weeks to discover ways to best support our conferences. Thanks also to the fine folks at Executive Events, who are doing the very labor intensive work of processing refunds.

Finally, I want to thank our entire SIGCHI community. Over the last weeks, as this crisis has unfolded, you have been offering help and in general staying concerned, supportive, and most of all patient. I’m hoping everyone extends that patience and support for a little while longer to everyone involved as they sort out the details. There are still some unknowns, and lots of discussion to be had over the next bit of time.

If you want to do something, think about how we can come together as a community and support one another. Think about how this is affecting those in your local and our greater HCI community and, if you are in the position to, reach out to those who may be significantly affected. For instance, those who are trying to maintain productivity while at home (often with dependents to care for) or students who may be housing-insecure due to their university closing. And be thoughtful of time zones for those around the globe who are being asked to accommodate teleconference times outside normal working hours and choose virtual solutions that are accessible for all to equally participate. We are a stronger, more resilient community when we show compassion and pull together to solve the complex challenges that may lie ahead.

Stay Healthy,

Helena Mentis
SIGCHI President