Futuring Site Selection: Five Ideas

Katie Seaborn
ACM SIGCHI
Published in
8 min readMay 9, 2024

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The SIGCHI Site Selection Working Group was set up earlier this year, in response to various site selection conversations unfolding across SIGCHI. This post below is an outcome of our first set of discussions on the topic, co-authored by Katie Seaborn and Adrian Petterson, who are both members of the Working Group. Stay tuned for more!

Site selection for conferences has become a hot topic in the last few years. From global events with massive implications for safety, access, personal politics, professional liability, and travel capacity, to greater awareness of sustainability, equity, and inclusion, to increasing fragile economic realities, a complex set of factors has driven new engagement on the why, who, and how of site selection decision-making for and beyond SIGCHI conferences.

The Site Selection Working Group came together earlier this year with the objectives of understanding the present state of affairs, gathering insights and ideas for ways forward, and planning a more equitable and transparent future for site selection decision-making. Our ultimate goal is to generate awareness around the challenges confronting conference communities, share our collective knowledge, and provide tools for revolutionizing site selection in a rigorous and caring way.

Our first engagement with the SIGCHI community was at the Futures Summit. In the opening, Katie Seaborn introduced the working group and our vision for success to roughly 150 members of SIGCHI, a varied group of students, researchers, and professionals spanning career levels and hailing from sites around the world. Initial insights were captured through a Menti poll with live engagement. A pilot survey on site selection was also completed by attendees, with the goal of refining the survey for wider release to the SIGCHI community. Naveena Karusala and Katie then co-led a breakout session on site selection. From the Menti poll, pilot survey, and rich breakout discussion, we gathered a depth and range of concerns, motivations, desires, unknowns, pain points, and ideas.

Here, we provide a sneak preview on one arm of our progress towards futuring site selection: practical offerings to the SIGCHI community on the doing of site selection. We plan to share updates in subsequent blog posts and publications.

This set of ideas was generated based on our analyses of the data gathered so far and discussed rigorously within the team. We kept things meta-level and general, recognizing that site selection is tempered by the specifics of the conference, the committee, attendees’ needs, and the world situation at any given moment. We aim to provide scalable, flexible, and equitable tools imbued with a reflexive axis, recognition of power differentials, and a human-centred framework.

We are very open to your early feedback on these ideas. We recognize that our team has a particular position and worldview informing our suggestions and understanding of the situation. We are keen for your reactions. After this, our next step is to refine and provide the ideas for formal review in the final version of the community feedback survey drafted for the Futures Summit, which Adrian Petterson is leading. On that front, stay tuned; for now, please take a gander at our five ideas for futuring site selection.

1) Site Selection Nutrition Label

Riffing off of recent initiatives around Internet service providers and explainable AI, conferences could provide a “nutrition label” on their websites that makes transparent the decisions made about site selection in a standard, concise format. Site selectors for a given conference will then indicate what decisions were made and how through a checklist format, which will be translated into a shareable figure. Consideration will be given to the fact that regardless of where the conference ends up being held, there will be some risks to the local community (e.g., increased hotel prices, impacts on the local environment) and some benefits (e.g., financial spending in the local economy, potential for knowledge sharing). The specific content will be compiled from the responses to the survey, piloted, and then provided for testing in one SIGCHI year. Possible items include: who made the decision; whether and how SIGCHI community input was involved; whether and how local input was involved; the set of considered issues; a risk/benefits check; etc. Information can also be added after the conference concludes to support reflection and help inform the choices of future conference organizers in their site decision processes.

Considerations:

  • Needs addressed:
    ・Transparency
    ・Standards
    ・Supporting reflection
    ・Accountability
  • Challenges and unknowns:
    ・Startup problem due to lack of data
    ・Complex information architecture
    ・Possibility of reinforcing current values
    ・Heavy development: checklist-to-label generator
  • Feedback opportunities:
    ・Upcoming community feedback survey

2) Site Selection Guidelines

Conference organizers are not always equipped with guidance on how to approach site selection. This is especially true for newer and smaller conferences. Yet, many organizers have unique and creative approaches to site selection. At the moment, their methods remain undocumented. If conference organizers could reflect and share their wisdom with each other, this could improve site selection — for all conferences — in the future. We imagine a document distilling these learnings into guidelines and essential terms, maintained by SIGCHI. Guidelines could be offered by organizers, attendees, and locals and drawn from SIGCHI or other conference experiences. We anticipate these will focus on equity and inclusion standards for conference organizing, adding to existing inclusion requirements. Terms will be unambiguously defined with a global perspective and concern for inclusivity. Formal definitions, including competing definitions, with reference to vetted sources, will be offered. Regional specificities will be compiled in a searchable format for ease of finding information relevant to particular sites. For example, “safety” may be defined differently from social and legal perspectives across sites. This work is expected to function as a living document like, e.g., the Gender Guidelines for HCI website.

Considerations:

  • Needs addressed:
    ・Ambiguity
    ・Equity and inclusion
    ・Standards
  • Challenges and unknowns:
    ・Startup problem due to lack of data
    ・Community involvement needed for diversity and scale
  • Feedback opportunities:
    ・Upcoming community feedback survey
    ・Ad hoc 3-hr workshop with interested parties to make it

3) Secret Diary

Feedback from attendees and the SIGCHI+ community is vital for site selection decision-making. Anonymous reporting by anyone (SIGCHI and beyond) about challenges and disturbances relating to site selection could support more informed choices for conference sites. We draw on PostSecret and Shit My Reviewers Say as inspiration. We imagine two varieties. One could be a question in all post-conference surveys to gather anonymous feedback on the particular site at a particular time. Another could be an online and open platform, such as a loosely moderated website or social media account curated periodically with the help of LLMs. This work could expand beyond SIGCHI, including other SIGs and other conference providers.

Considerations:

  • Needs addressed:
    ・Anonymity and psychological safety in reporting adverse events and divisive opinions
    ・Shift of power
    ・Experiential data, perhaps tied to specific site selection cases
    ・Standard measure, if included in all SIGCHI post-conference surveys
  • Challenges and unknowns:
    ・Startup problem due to lack of data
    ・Community involvement needed for diversity and scale
    ・Big, rich data and curation for truly grokking the situation
    ・Technical savvy needed to summarize by site and case
  • Feedback opportunities:
    ・Upcoming community feedback survey

4) Tools for Local Engagement

Organizers can benefit from guidance on how to engage with locals at the site. This would take the form of a master list of ideas, crowdsourced from the SIGCHI and local communities, about how to engage regional stakeholders before site selection, before the conference, during the conference, and afterwards. Specific focus will be paid to power, first to the locals/region and then to the community outside of the decision-makers. Notably, we would foster a list of ways that previous conferences have involved or benefited the local community from their perspective. This would involve some research on the part of non-locals to find and vet ideas with locals. These ideas should involve the conference, e.g., involving at least one organization that does community work at the site and offering free or low-cost attendance in exchange for local advice/support, but should go beyond conference events, e.g., sponsored local engagement that is not tourism or crowdsourced donations to local causes and carbon offsets.

Considerations:

  • Needs addressed:
    ・True engagement with the site beyond the conference objectives
    ・Practical
    ・Community-building
    ・Future-oriented
  • Challenges and unknowns:
    ・Care and reflexivity needed to avoid performative acts that simply make us feel good
    ・Not all sites wish to engage, and that needs to be acknowledged
    ・Startup problem due to lack of data
    ・SIGCHI community involvement needed for diversity and scale
  • Feedback opportunities:
    ・Upcoming community feedback survey

5) New Decision-Making Structures

Decision-making on site selection has historically been attended to by a small group of people in a closed environment. While this reflects a practical division of labour implicitly agreed-upon by the SIGCHI community, we have also now learned that this structure has its weaknesses: limited transparency, few opportunities for outside feedback, and, sometimes blowback when unexpected issues arise. Perhaps a revised decision-making structure is needed. One option is a democratic vote based on a final selection of possible sites for the conference and the criteria used for their selection. A simple poll could be run after the previous conference in the series takes place, asking: “Which of the following would you advocate for as the next site for our conference series?” and “Why? Please briefly explain with reference to positives and negatives.” There could additionally be a ranking of priorities aligned with the conference site requirements for the respondents to assess the proposed sites against. Having a set of sites on the table at this stage could help avoid a range of issues, including decision-makers not knowing about critical goings-on at the “final” site and premature site investments, e.g., rate inflation at the “final” site.

Considerations:

  • Needs addressed:
    ・True engagement with the site beyond the conference objectives
    ・Practical
    ・Community-building
  • Challenges and unknowns:
    ・Care and reflexivity needed to avoid performative acts that simply make us feel good
    ・Not all sites wish to engage, and that needs to be acknowledged
    ・Startup problem due to lack of data
    ・Community involvement needed for diversity and scale
  • Feedback opportunities:
    ・Upcoming community feedback survey

We are excited by the future of site selection, and by the possibility of locating our conferences with greater care and consideration. Moving forward and embracing new modes of praxis will be no easy task, but we are eager to support the SIGCHI community on this much needed endeavour.

Katie Seaborn and Adrian Petterson
Site Selection Working Group (SSWG)

We would like to acknowledge Adriana S. Vivacqua (SSWG Chair, SIGCHI VP at Large), Annu Prabhakar (SSWG Member), Carolyn Petersen (SSWG Member), and Neha Kumar (SIGCHI President) for their contributions to this piece.

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Katie Seaborn
ACM SIGCHI
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Human-computer interaction specialist. Head of the Aspirational Computing Lab (Aspire Lab) at Tokyo Institute of Technology. https://aspirelab.io