Scheduling 52 mini-CHIs: The CHI 2021 Workshops

  • December 27, 2020

Workshops are a crucial part of the CHI experience. As small gatherings, designed to enable sharing and building together, they allow for meeting new colleagues, new collaborators, and in-depth discussion on a topic that attendees know they're interested in. We think that's particularly important in a virtual conference like CHI 2021, as it can be hard to make deep, lasting connections in the sorts of larger-scale, briefer encounters that are characteristic of online conferences.


As your Workshop/Symposium chairs for 2021, we're excited to be able to announce today that CHI 2021 has more workshops and symposiums than ever before -- over fifty, with organizers spread across the globe. (We're going to just use the word "workshops" from now on to refer to both kinds of gatherings; a symposium is a workshop that the CHI Steering Committee has specified as a priority for the conference, and thus is guaranteed acceptance.)


Navigating Timezones


That richness of options is hugely exciting: we honestly think there'll be at least one workshop which will interest just about anyone coming to CHI. That said, finding a workshop which fits your interests and works with your schedule may be a little more difficult, A key issue, of course, is the timing. Usually, workshops are on the weekend before the conference with one-day workshops held during the day on either Saturday or Sunday, or two-day workshops over the course of the entire weekend. But that doesn't make sense in a fully online, virtual experience.


It was very clear that timing was going to be a complex problem: with globally-distributed attendees, workshop times are invariably going to be, at best case, inconvenient for some people -- and worse case, inconvenient for everyone. We knew from the beginning that we weren't going to be able to get a perfect solution. We also wanted to make sure that organizers weren't just choosing times that would work well for the existing majority of CHI attendees based in Europe and North America, when the whole point of holding CHI in Yokohama is to engage with the growing Asia-based CHI community. 


We looked first to the workshop experiences of our larger community over the course of the last year, and we'd like to particularly thank the CSCW 2020 Workshop Chairs, the organizers of the CUI Workshop, and the NordiCHI Workshop Chairs for their detailed feedback and suggestions; we also looked carefully at how conferences like DIS, NeurIPS, and Ubicomp handled their workshop programs.

Talking to the Community


The announcement that CHI would be virtual came after the workshop deadline, but before the workshop acceptances were announced. We asked the workshop organizers to give us an initial suggestion of when they'd like to hold their now-virtual workshops. The answers were complex, with nearly fifty distinct start and finishing times spread over three days. Some workshops were on multiple days; others tried to squeeze their program into a single day. Here's what those choices looked like.


A visualization of the 52 workshops' start times, showing a wide variety of starting and ending times spread across three days.

Initial workshop timing requests were spread over a three day period, resulting in over forty different start times and durations.


After talking this over with the Technical Program Chairs and General Chairs, we decided we should take the decision back to the workshop organizers, and so we contacted them yet again to ask them for overall feedback on the question of how to organize workshop times, as well as specific feedback on a suggestion to standardize on a set of possible times. We also brought the organizers' attention to a specific issue which the community had raised: this year, Ramadan ends during the CHI conference, which complicates timing issues for some workshop attendees, both during the weekend before the conference, and during Eid al-Fitr, the festival marking the end of Ramadan. We asked for their suggestions on how best to accomodate the needs of a wide variety of workshop organizers and attendees. 


We had 71 organizers from over 50 workshops respond. The free form responses were really useful, and the main thing we drew from them was that the workshop organizers understood the complexity of making these choices and were struggling, themselves, with the right solutions. 


We also asked a few quantifiable questions, allowing people to respond to as many options as they wished. So of those 71 respondents:


  • 65% "think the workshop chairs are doing the right thing by discussing the options with the workshop organizers", 
  • 59% "think this is a good idea and we should do something like this"
  • 24% "think this is a bad idea and we should stick to every workshop being able to choose the timeslots that most make sense."
  • 7% told us "I just want the workshop chairs to tell me what to do and quit sending emails." 


We took the responses we'd heard, talked to the general and technical chairs, and came back to the workshop organizers with the current solution, and we're presenting the results of that solution here. 


CHI Workshops in 2021


First, we received permission from the General & Technical Chairs to also hold workshops on the weekend after the conference. That way we can still keep a sense of momentum and connection to the conference, but also allows flexibility for both attendees and organizers.


Second, we defined three timeslots a day: 

  • Slot A is JST 0600-1000 / EDT 1700 (day before)-2100 (day before) / CEST 2300 (day before)-0300
  • Slot B is JST 1300-1700 / EDT 0000-0400 / CEST 0600-1000
  • Slot C is JST 2200-0200 (next day) / EDT 0900-1300 / CEST 1500-1900.


As you can see, those are relatively evenly spaced around the clock, tweaked slightly to account for our Asian and Australian time-zone attendees as well as our European and North American attendees. They're not perfect for anyone. But they're about as good as they can be. 


We asked every workshop organizer to choose their time selections out of those three timeslots, spread across the weekends before and after the conference. Some organizers might choose to focus on a particular timeslot: a four hour workshop can be remarkably productive, and we think for the majority of workshops it's going to be the best option. Some workshop organizers might choose to do two four slots on subsequent days, or on subsequent Fridays, or some other arrangement. 


We further recognize that as submissions come in, workshops want to adjust their times to make it convenient or even possible for submitters to attend, and we recognize and allow for that -- and encourage you to check with your workshop's webpage for the current state, linked from the CHI 2021 Accepted Workshops page.  Multiple timeslots indicate either a workshop over multiple days, or a workshop that will be determining which of the timeslots they'll use on the basis of the response from their attendees. Check the workshop's website to be sure.


We recognize this is not a perfect solution. But it's not a solution that was developed in a vacuum: it's a solution that was based on a lot of conversations and feedback with the community and with the workshop organizers, as well as with the General Chairs, the Technical Program Chairs, and with members of the SIGCHI Executive Committee. 


At this point, all we need is you! Have a look at the list of accepted workshops and take advantage of this opportunity to build a connection to a new community or reconnect with existing colleagues. We look forward to seeing you at a CHI 2021 workshop!


Jofish Kaye & Hideaki Kuzuoka

CHI 2021 Workshop Chairs

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