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The SIGCHI membership is becoming international

Stock image showing a hand holding a miniature globe

SIGCHI’s members are becoming more and more international. By the end of April, we currently have 2878 members. 1239 members indicated to live in the U.S. compared to 1580 members choosing one of the 258 other labels that you can use to indicate the country or region you live in. 21,5% of these members are students (619), with 272 of the students being a SIGCHI member only and the others being members of ACM and SIGCHI. For the 2259 professional memberships, 559 chose only to be a SIGCHI member and 1700 are both ACM and SIGCHI members.

The current statistics show that 1577 members are male, 890 female, 18 non-binary and 393 did not disclose gender. Please keep in mind, that the options available for reporting gender information have changed during the 35 years this database is in use, and thus might not be fully representative.

Figure 1 shows how divers the SIGCHI membership is, the x the color, the more members. To ensure privacy and avoid that individuals can be identified in countries with a very low number of members we do not report low numbers.

World Map indicating total members per country colour coded from dark read to yellow and gray.
Figure 1: Membership per country

The Top 10 countries are the US (1293), UK (183), Germany (152), Canada (147), Japan (125), India (83), Australia (82) Netherlands (65) and France and Indonesia (both 42).

The membership database currently does not have unique person identifiers (like ORCID), but is based on names/e-mails. Thus the data is tricky to analyse when it comes to membership durations. In terms of duration of membership we have two dominant patterns, members that stay for a short period typically less than 3 years compared to a second group that are long term members with 10+ years. Currently we have 822 members that joined us less than a year ago (307 more than in February 21), 338 with less than 2 years, 254 with less than 3 years. On the contrary we currently have 309 members that are SIGCHI members for more than 10, and 396 members that are SIGCHI members for more than 15 years. Given the type of membership, the first pattern typically has a majority of student memberships. A simple explanation here is that students after leaving the university are not continuing our membership.

To keep things a bit more readable, some simple observations without too many numbers:

SIGCHI chapters are key to success

Key to the growth in membership outside of the US are clearly Chapter activities. There is a clear correlation for the increase in number of members when new local chapters are established. For example recent activities in Indonesia brought the country to the top 10 in our ranking. When it comes to community outreach Eunice Sari as VP for Chapters has done an excellent job.

Membership does not equal Community

Looking at the number of members it is clear that the community that is interested in SIGCHI activities (including all our conferences) exceeds by far the membership. A simple example, when chairing CHI 2020 with Floyd Mueller, we had a committee of about 200 core roles (including SCs, but not ACs), but we also had 5000 external reviews done. With the assumption that an external reviewer would do on average 2 reviews, that means that the people involved and actively contributing to the organization of CHI 2020 already exceed the number of our current members. This mismatch of community representation in the structures and processes of SIGCHI is something to work on.

For the communication team this identifies three major challenges:
(1) English as a second language: Given the numbers, it is likely that 1 out of 3 of our members is speaking English as a second language. If we look at the broader community my personal guess is that this is even higher.

In terms of communication it will be even more important to use a simplified version of international English in all our meetings, communications and conferences. The main goal must be to encourage people to participate and speak up, without the need to excel in a foreign language. The more SIGCHI expands internationally the more language will be a key for integration and inclusivity for these communities.

The second challenge is the diversity in cultural backgrounds that we have to consider in our communications. While a simple “Hi folks, …” can be an acceptable way to start a meeting, the perception of an e-mail using such a formulation for members in countries where honorifics and the use of honorifics is central to their cultural values is different.  

This leads to the third challenge of how to reach our members on different platforms. While for the 45% of US based members the combination of Facebook/Twitter/Medium can be a good strategy, the focus in Asia clearly is on Instagram (and Whatsapp).  If we want to be inclusive in our communication, the only platform that is also accessible for members in China or even IRAN is Linkedin.

As of today, becoming a SIGCHI member has become a choice you can make, without being forced to “opt-in”. Starting for CHI 2021 anyone registering as non-member is no longer automatically assigned to become a SIGCHI member. While this was typically leading to 1000 new members every year, we saw this year only 300 new members signing up to SIGCHI before the CHI conference (with 2578 mid February 21 raising to 2878 for end of April 21).

While in October 2018, before I got asked to step in as emergency general chair for CHI 2020, we had up to 4.000 members, the currently low number of members can also be explained by the cancellation of CHI 2020, where this automatically sign-up mechanism was already partly not executed.

One of the key challenges for the future VP for Membership and Communication will be how to reach our members and provide value for our loyal members and at the same time convince our broad SIGCHI community to join SIGCHI as a member.

Stay healthy, stay safe and stay in good spirits.