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SIGCHI Equity Talks #1: Being Global

SIGCHI Equity Talks #1: Being Global

March 8, 2021 @4.30pm GMT

The video recording of this session will be posted on SIGCHI’s YouTube channel and linked here once professionally captioned.

The next SIGCHI Equity Talk will be on Making SIGCHI Accessible, on March 18, 2021 @4pm GMT (in your time zone) with Zoom/ for participation.

An image of sketch notes from the session, essentially capturing the summary in the text of the post.
Thank you, Miriam Sturdee, for sharing your exquisite talent with us!

In this first of the roundtable dialogue series on equity, we built on conversations from the past on how we must do more — to recognize that we are not only a western, a US, a Global North organization, and to build HCI capacity so as to be inclusive of all people, cultures, and geographies, fostering global solidarity. There were three key points that were revisited through the hour, and are elaborated on below:

  • How to center and strengthen the local and hyper-local?
  • How to recognize the value added through horizontal exchanges?
  • How to create structures for facilitating meaningful collaboration?

We opened the session with brief introductions, stressing that we (i.e, members of the Executive Committee) were here to “listen and learn, and better understand how our present and future initiatives can serve the SIGCHI community best.” Cale Passmore (moderator, CP) read out the code of conduct designed for our Equity Talks. An excerpt:

Technical issues, anxiety, and glitches are expected. Be patient. Show sensitivity to anyone speaking, be kind and be supportive. People’s lived experiences are not for debate; their ideas, policies, and suggestions are. The lines between these two are not always clear so give one another the benefit of the doubt. Grace, sensitivity, and validation go a long way toward creating community.

Access to education about needs around identity, social justice, and cultural sensitivities are not equal. Not everyone has access to the bodies, knowledge, or communities that you do. There are differences between us and material limits that must be respected, even if disagreed with. There may be times when identifying words or phrases are insensitive or just don’t feel right to you. If these issues come up, take each other in good faith and (if you have the capacity) correct the individual. Help in refocusing on the topic of the moment.

In all, we were delighted to have around 60 people attend! All attendees were requested to introduce themselves in the Zoom chat, indicating their affiliations and (optionally) pronouns, following which they all participated as co-hosts in the conversation.

We began by posing a guiding question “What are the big and small ways in SIGCHI’s everyday operations that its global identity surfaces (or struggles to surface)?” Josh (Adi) Tedjasaputra asked on if instead SIGCHI would not be more effective through building its “glocal” identity. Along these lines, Suleman Shahid (SS) began by discussing that the best way to build a strong global identity was by strengthening local identity, and that there were many HCI bodies that were thriving locally such as in his country (Pakistan) and these could be supported then linked through structures such as the Asian Development Committee (ADC), a SIGCHI initiative that has succeeded in bringing in contact members from a large and diverse region. SS also mentioned that this would help build capacity in ways that are otherwise hard to replicate. E.g., researchers working in Pakistan and researchers working in London might view the same research topic quite differently.

CP asked for thoughts on what SIGCHI could do to strengthen HCI at the hyperlocal level. Marisol Wong-Villacres (MWV) responded by adding that there was a need to support more local voices, such as those of HCI students from her country, Ecuador. Videos of work that they have done could be promoted in exchange for accounts of similar experiences in other parts of the world to facilitate mutual learning. Another point MWV added was that a little flexibility could go a long way, with the support that large actors such as ACM/SIGCHI provide, e.g., with financially supporting the use of tools and platforms (such as Slack) that can be useful for sustaining regional group activity.

Melissa Densmore (MD), faculty in Cape Town, mentioned that many changes, such as the shift to journal-based venues, greater transparency (such as in the case of CHI 2016) have been great. However, the number of publications from Africa at CHI, e.g., remains quite low, and most are not from African researchers living/working in Africa. A better understanding of why their papers are continually rejected is needed. The role of ACM/SIGCHI chapters in India and other parts of Asia offer great avenues for strengthening research capacity, but this has been a struggle to kickstart in Africa, especially with there not being critical mass to create city-specific chapters as ACM’s rules require (e.g., Protea). As a result, there are only three chapters in all of Africa, and only two in all of sub-Saharan Africa. Although MD made the effort to set up the Protea chapter, post struggles with ACM, this may be another place where flexibility could help and mobilize more chapter formation.

MD also mentioned that the additional flexibility around the SIGCHI Development Fund and Gary Marsden Travel Awards initiatives (from SIGCHI) was great, and going virtual has made many learning opportunities available, but data/bandwidth are still an issue. Factoring such needs into funds support may be helpful.

On connecting the local and global, Christian Sturm (CS) suggested focusing on students, and creating regional and then global-level research/design/gaming/etc. competitions culminating at CHI. This would allow students to engage with others, within regions first, and then the top teams could compete at CHI, with juries from across regions. This would generate avenues for greater cross-border collaboration as well. MWV commended this idea for its horizontal and vertical emphasis.

Andrew Kun (VP for Conferences) noted that having conference organization committees that were geographically dispersed could be one way of addressing challenges around representation. This would be beneficial for virtual conferences in particular, as they must now cater to multiple time zones. MD added that this diversity was needed in the composition of organization committees, steering committees, and program committees. Daniel Gatica-Perez pointed out that conveying these ideas to conference organizers and committees is crucial for changes to be instituted.

Naja Holten Moller noted that volunteering took time and there were many competing responsibilities; it could be valuable to provide volunteers more opportunities to engage at different levels, to different extents, depending on what they were able/willing to do.

In the spirit of collaboration across borders, we also discussed working with other bodies such as IFIP. Interact is a conference organized by IFIP that also involves some interaction with SIGCHI to prevent date collisions. Managing these relations could also help support our global identity, MD suggested. Regina Bernhaupt (VP for Membership & Communications) mentioned that Gerrit van der Veer was the representative responsible for managing the relations, adding that it was unclear why they did not apply learnings across their conferences. CP summarized that there was a need to think about relationship-building between organizations and cultures.

To discuss transfer of learnings from the local to the global, MWV suggested that there could be sessions at the larger “global” conferences that honor activities at the “local” levels. E.g. a session at CHI could aim to feature this work, or create a forum for others from various conferences. There could also be a more focused attempt at transferring lessons learned for a paper in one conference to the community at another conference, asking “What are the questions that we need to ask so that we can draw lessons for other conferences and vice versa?”

CS suggested creating a flat rate for all SIGCHI conferences worldwide. E.g., there could be a fee for registering virtually at any particular conference (in addition to the SIGCHI membership fee). “The worldwide distribution of conferences is much more present then in our daily life and in our daily work.” Authors could get notified when there are papers on particular topics presented in certain regions. This would serve “to automate global awareness by paying some extra fee, where the fee could be different per region.” The notifications could be based on PCS profile, drawing on areas of interest when one reviews papers, for instance.

SS stressed the importance of local conferences drawing from his own experience with reviews, affirming that it was possible to communicate back to reviewers the importance of locally published works, and urging us to find empathy in our own field.

CP brought some themes together at this point, highlighting that communities and geographies were being neglected, there was low representation in the circumpolar North, and the regional South, where more work needed to be done, especially around recognizing the value and credentials of work from these parts. Cayley MacArthur added:

Decreasing the geographical barriers is so big and impactful (however ‘tricky’ is an understatement here). I would love to be able to more easily find papers in local venues and it’s hard to know where to look and how to navigate these conferences. There are so many different barriers to attending the “big ones”, be it money, personal reasons, accessibility, or just not being able to ethically reconcile the idea of burning all of those fossil fuels to watch talks for 4 days.

Stacy Branham (AC for Accessibility, SB) mentioned that cross-conference awards could be one way of bringing more visibility to the lesser known conferences/communities. MD added to this thread by raising questions about how there could be shifts in reviewer culture so that we “treat every paper author as human beings that are trying to learn”. What would it take to treat the review process as a conversation, where we’re trying to collectively improve conversations in our field and how we understand the world? We need to create more mentorship opportunities (in addition to shepherding and R&R) for writing to SIGCHI venues, so that papers are not summarily rejected, but this is hard to do because it relies on real relationships. SB echoed:

It’s all about relationships :).

On moving across borders, MWV added that there was a need to motivate more “global” reviewers to participate as reviewers in “local” and regional conferences. Pushpendra Singh (PS) added that there could be a day (just like two workshop days) devoted to learning about work from other, regional conferences. Or venues such as ToCHI and PACM HCI could consider “republishing” work from other, less widely known venues. Vinoba Vinayagamoorthy (AC for Equity, VV) added that we could explore options to co-host regional with international conferences. Maryam Mustafa (MM) added that publishing at CHI/CSCW was crucial to the career trajectories of scholars in the Global South, and access to the global community of scholars, alongside mentorship, was valuable.

Michael Muller added to the above conversation about mentorship by stressing the need for peer mentorship both ways: “I’m still a North American and I don’t know what I’m talking about on a global scale. Don’t know how to write for other audiences. Don’t know how to write globally.” VV added that the exchange of knowledge was essential to move the community forward to a more global, rich, and inclusive perspective, and mentorship was important, but mentors also needed to be incentivized to volunteer their efforts. Both sides must benefit in the process. MD mentioned that shadow program committees (PCs), which paired up senior and junior members on program committees, could be one way to facilitate a mutually beneficial exchange. Pranjal Borah (PB) also supported such interactions.

Hao-Chuan Wang (HCW) brought up language, asking how second-language speakers were disadvantaged in different parts of the world, and Adriana Vivacqua (AC for Equity, AV) said that this was true for Brazil as well. MD remarked: “I’ve shifted over the years to be more forgiving of writing not in precise American or British English… As long as it is understandable, does it matter if people mix up dialects?” SB responded asking about examples from other academic publishers about more language-inclusive practices, what an any-language review/publication model would look like, and how the ACM might support translation services. If you are aware of models from other publishers that have more language-inclusive practices, do let us know!

At this point we realized that we had forgotten to check for questions on! These asked questions about efforts to promote and standardize HCI education across the globe (e.g., India has only 2–3 universities doing HCI), and promote awareness around the field. Susan Dray (SD) brought up SIGCHI Awards, highlighting that they were not configured to recognize the wide range of contributions to HCI as were made across the Global South. MM echoed this. Another question asked, “How do we deal with complex cultural identities when people increasingly work and live away from their roots?” But we did not get to answering this specifically.

MWV stressed the need for horizontality and reciprocity, explaining that when help is offered, people may be resistant to take it because it has been posed as “help” and not a horizontal exchange. To promote collaborations, PB brought up options for the SIGCHI mobile app to consider, such as providing opportunities for global “research interest-based” chapters. Members could potentially convey, using this app, whether they are “open to collaborate” or “looking to collaborate”. SS also suggested, on the topic of partnerships, that being flexible and focusing on the long rather than short term could reveal practical opportunities for growth. For example, in Pakistan, there was more support for UX than for HCI, but building out academia and industry partnerships has proved fruitful in the long run.

Nic Bidwell (NB) discussed trust in motives behind crossing borders and building collaborations. “Those in the Global South might feel that others in the North are only interested in building relationships to have access to communities to work on. Likewise, Global North people feel sensitive if a Global South person is somehow exploiting them for their own career gain, in a way to get funding or whatever.” NB and Alex Taylor also pointed out that while we could make individual efforts to build good relationships, there were broader systemic issues to contend with, e.g., tech giants such as Google doing deals with telecom providers resulting in conflicts of interest.

On that somber note, we ended our recorded session and engaged in informal, unrecorded dialogue for about 30 minutes. This was done to ensure that no threads were left under-explored, and if there were any concerns to be addressed in a safe space, that could be done. Overall, the discussions through the hour were positive, constructive, and generally stimulating. There were many lessons to be gleaned, and steps to be taken — some immediately and some worth considering in the longer term.

We look forward to continuing these conversations in our Equity Talks to come — the next one will be on Making SIGCHI Accessible — March 18, 4pm GMT (in your time zone) with Zoom/ for participation.