Planning of a Hybrid Conference Format

  • October 19, 2020

Please refer to this more recent blog post on CHI 2021 which is now an online virtual conference. The following post was written on Oct 19th 2020 prior to the final decision to move CHI 2021 from a hybrid conference to a fully online virtual conference. 

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact people around the world. It presents a great challenge on the conference organization. Since it is unforeseeable how the logistics of the conference and participation will change within the next months, we are currently planning how we can transform the CHI conference into an interactive hybrid experience for physical and virtual attendees or for virtual attendees alone.

Planning and running a CHI hybrid conference is more challenging than a physical-only or virtual-only event, and requires careful consideration to provide the best experience for a diverse community. Since June, a hybrid conference advisory group has been investigating how to make a hybrid version of CHI work, in the following aspects:

Participation and Time Zones
In a hybrid CHI conference, the timings of in-person events (e.g., talks, keynotes, etc.) need to work for the Japan time zone. To work with this constraint, one thing we are investigating is expanding beyond strictly traditional conference scheduling to better blend with other time zones, for some participation formats (e.g., keynotes, live presentations, tutorials, workshops). We are also investigating technology-centered solutions that foster participation formats that support suitable timings of events for a majority of attendees, a lively discussion culture, and the participant's desired presentation formats. Most important, we are looking into how we can effectively "merge" the participation between virtual and physical participants using synchronous as well as asynchronous methods.

Equity and Inclusion
Including all participants -- across home environments, sociocultural differences, genders, technological differences, and comfort level with English -- in an equitable and inclusive way is a priority. The advisory group organized several GenderMag sessions to find potential "inclusivity bugs" in CHI’s existing software/web tools that prevent an inclusive attendance among participants in different location contexts (e.g., physical and virtual, persons sharing the same computer who interact with a physical or virtual counterpart). We are currently reaching out to vendors of several conference platforms to discuss our findings and strategies to tackle the challenges the GenderMag sessions revealed.

Providing accessible platforms is one main aspect of maintaining an inclusive environment for all participants. In cooperation with the accessibility chairs, we are monitoring and testing several virtual conference platforms for their accessibility features. As we are reaching out to several vendors, we aim to discuss if and how modifications of existing virtual platforms can lead to an increase in accessibility.

Our next step is to release a survey soon that will provide us with more insights into these aspects. This will help us plan and, hence, we would appreciate your participation in the survey. A separate post with the details about the survey will follow.

We will announce the final decision for a fully virtual, or hybrid conference in December while monitoring the current situation of COVID-19 closely.

Thanks to our hybrid conference advisory group for their ongoing work. Aaron Quigley and Yoshifumi Kitamura, CHI 2021 General co-chairs.

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