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Report on being workshops chair for HCI 2002

These are a few notes and pointers on being HCI workshops chair for the HCI 2002 conference.

I think workshops chair must be the easiest job on the committee; still it is probably worthwhile having one person focussing on it since it does have some features different from the other things at a conference, and it will go better if one person keeps their eye on it. The main thing is, that the workshop organisers have to work hard to get their workshops to work, and having a dedicated committee member at least simplifies their interface to the rest of the conference, plus provides a stream of reminders and prompts to help scaffold their work.

The main distinctive points are:

  1. Getting the committee to adopt the policy of having workshops regarded as cost-neutral to the conference. While tutorials are money-generators, I think a healthy policy is for workshops to be cost-neutral so there is no pressure to increase or reduce the number of workshops, or to have a maximum or minimum number of participants in a workshop. This means that both each organiser and the committee can just focus on what makes for the most useful workshop, and leave the decision whether to cancel workshops up to the individual organisers. A number of people have personal experience of very valuable workshops with only 3 people there, so no lower limit other than what the organiser feels is sensible in their case should be imposed. This does depend on getting a deal on rooms where late cancellation isn't expensive for the conference. Similarly allowing people to attend workshops without going to the conference is best. Remember, workshops are about fostering topics that may well form part of future conferences, not this one.

  2. The difficulty for the conference about workshops is that they have to find a huge number of rooms at once: the rest of the conference may simply need 4 large rooms; but workshops, tutorials, and the doc. consortium require up to 21 rooms at once, and many workshops would like additional break-out rooms nearby. Similarly data projectors etc. are needed in giant quantities for just these 2 days.

  3. Refereeing however can be much less of an issue: this is not about what is publishable, and probably not about rejecting many because of limited space. Because organising a workshop is a lot of work, and only occurs to experienced people to attempt, you are unlikely to get a flood of bad proposals. It is much more about raising the quality of how they are put on with suggestions / requirements for how to run them better.

  4. Organising payment for attending a workshop is different from ALL other conference items, since a person must first be accepted by that workshop organiser, and only later pay. This requires differences on the booking form and a number of other web pages, a readiness to take late payment, and extra payments after an early booking, and to do refunds (if the workshop is then cancelled), extra checking mechanisms to prompt payment (e.g. by doing round the workshops on the day and prompting any remaining people to pay now), etc.

  5. Promote (but don't insist on) workshops producing posters during them, that are displayed during the conference: a form of instant report-back, and it promotes integration into the conference. You need to reserve space with the posters-chair; and I should have done more to advertise them e.g. get ghost slots in the programme or other lists of posters.

  6. Getting room facilities is a special issue e.g. data projectors, flip charts and pens, display boards and blu-tak, poster-making materials, internet access in the room, etc. Do better than me: ask organisers early; then be ready to ask again in the last 2 weeks before the conference when they are getting to grips with details for the first time, and liase with the local organiser again.

  7. Followup the conference by getting hold of post-workshop reports, and being the only person to modify the conference website afterwards by adding new pointers to these reports.

Most of my work can be seen from web pages (typically backed up by emails):

  • General introduction to what the purpose of workshops is.
  • Major to do list for organisers
  • Neat list on conf. website of the workshops

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