SIGCHI is a professional organization led by volunteers. In the course of SIGCHI business, situations will arise where a SIGCHI decision-maker has a conflict of interest, or where the process of making a decision creates an appearance of favoring a SIGCHI volunteer.
Conflicts of interest cannot be eliminated. It is SIGCHI’s policy to address conflicts as and when they arise through three mechanisms:
- Disclosure of potential conflicts.
- Withdrawal of volunteers from decisions and management of processes in which they are, or may be, the subject of a conflict. Withdrawal includes not participating in the discussion and the entire decision process.
- Openness in processes that may result in benefiting a SIGCHI volunteer.
As an open organization, SIGCHI seeks to avoid both actual and apparent conflicts of interest, and encourages any SIGCHI member to raise questions regarding possible conflicts of interest to the appropriate officer, the Chair, or the Executive Committee.
What constitutes a conflict of interest?
A potential conflict of interest occurs when a person is involved in making a decision that:
- could result in that person, a close associate of that person, or that person’s company or institution receiving significant financial gain, such as a contract or grant, or
- could result in that person, or a close associate of that person, receiving significant professional recognition, such as an award, a speaking opportunity, or some other honor.
A potential conflict of interest also occurs when a person in a position of authority (e.g., a SIGCHI officer), or a close associate of that person or that person’s company or institution, benefits from a closed selection process. For example, it would be a potential conflict of interest to:
- select the SIGCHI Chair’s employer for a no-bid contract, even if the Chair recused him/herself from the selection process.
- select a SIGCHI officer’s spouse as a conference keynote speaker, without a well-defined process that made it clear that the officer’s status didn’t confer this benefit unfairly.
Since the number of HCI professionals is relatively small, we can assume that there will be many cases where we make decisions involving someone who is known to us or with whom we have had some professional or personal association. A “close association” refers to a relative, a very close personal friend, a colleague from the same company or institution, or a colleague with whom there is a close professional relationship such as co-authorship or grant co-investigation.
Some examples of associations that could cause a conflict of interest are:
- employment at the same institution or company
- candidate for employment at the same institution or company
- received an honorarium or stipend from the institution or company within the last year
- co-author on book or paper in the last 48 months
- co-principal investigator on grant or research project
- actively working on project together
- family relationship
- close personal relationship
- graduate advisee/advisor relationship
- deep personal animosity
Addressing a Conflict of Interest
The first step in addressing conflicts of interest is disclosure. A person who believes he or she may be perceived as having a conflict of interest in a discussion or decision must disclose that conflict to the group making the decision. In the case where the individual is responsible for the decision, the disclosure should go “up the line” (e.g., from area chair to conference chair, from officer to SIGCHI chair) or if necessary to the SIGCHI EC. If the person is found to have a conflict, or a significant appearance of conflict, then that person will not participate in the discussion or decision on the issue. In that case, the decision is made by the group, without participation of the individual, or is passed “up the line” for a decision. In all cases, the existence of the potential conflict, the decision of whether it constituted an actual conflict, and the steps taken to address it shall be documented, e.g., in the minutes.
Some examples of selection processes relevant to SIGCHI are:
- A person who is being considered for an award should remove himself/herself from the award committee.
- A person who has a close personal relationship, or any financial involvement, with a bidder in a contract must recuse himself/herself from discussions and decisions on awarding that contract. If the contractor is selected, the person must not be in a position to directly manage or evaluate the contractor.
In some cases, the nature of the conflict requires going beyond only the withdrawal of the person concerned to create a more open selection process. If the relevant officer, or the EC, determines that the outcome of a closed selection process would appear to favor someone “with connections to the inside,” it shall choose among the following alternatives:
- Restricting the candidates to a set “without connections,” or
- Opening the process to wider submissions and nominations, and having a well-defined selection process.
Some examples of where these processes might be necessary are:
- If SIGCHI were selecting a vendor for some software, and the Chair’s company was a possible bidder, it would be necessary to widely publicize the request for proposals, as well as to have the Chair withdraw him or herself from discussion if the company did indeed bid.
- A conference chair might, on the other hand, choose to exclude “inside” candidates for plenary speaker, rather than create a more open and objective process that could embarrass potential speakers.