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CHI in Hawaiʻi

Thank you very much for reading this text. We want you to know that we hear the people who have reached out to us and we are listening. Let us begin by saying that we are deeply saddened by the devastating wildfires that have brought tragedy and loss of life to Maui. That is why we implore the CHI community to rally behind the people of Maui and extend their support to organizations that aid. There are many organizations you can support. Here are some of our favorites as starting point for you to make your own decision:

The wildfires have brought up in many people’s minds the question of why CHI’24 is in Hawai’i and how/whether to travel there and why the paper submission opening coincided with the wildfires. In particular, we have heard from HCI people voicing concerns about CHI’24 taking place in Hawai’i, not just now as in response to the wildfires, but also before, when the location was discussed as early as 2016 (we believe). There is a lot to consider and we appreciate the time from everyone who helped compile this text.

These concerns appear to be focussed on (1) Indigenous self-determination and legacies of settler colonialism, (2) climate change and carbon emissions, and (3) cost.

These economic, climate and Indigenous justice issues are important to all of us, and being part of a discipline that both researches and elevates them and their intersections we see the opportunity to address these issues as a privilege. Thus, we appreciate the fact that people took the time to reach out to us and the opportunity to write this text.

We take the opportunity to address some of these (and additional) considerations one by one, although it is acknowledged that they are interconnected.

Location

The decision on where CHI will be held is made by the SIGCHI Executive Committee and the CHI Steering Committee (the Executive Committee sets the broad direction and values, the Steering Committee evaluates sites, and the Executive Committee approves the final recommendation) with contracts, etc. signed by the ACM up to 4+ years in advance. Only then, (up to two years before the conference), is the organizing team selected (which for CHI’24 was through an open call). As such, no one on the organizing committee “selected” the location. That said, we take responsibility for CHI’24 and aim to create an engaging conference experience that aims to consider the wellbeing of all the respective parties, that includes the CHI family but also the local community. We do this by aiming to take into account the real costs for everyone involved as well as the inherent responsibilities in proceeding, especially in terms of climate action and attention to the wishes and wellbeing of the sovereign people of Hawai’i.

In terms of site selection, we know that some people do not want any travel (i.e. virtual-only), some want to travel only between USA’s East Coast and Western Europe, while others want CHI to go to Africa (see CHI’23 keynote comment). As such, it is clear that no perfect solution exists, and hence we point to the Steering Committee’s explanation about the choice for the 2024 location and how sites for CHI get selected.

Indigenous sovereignty

We listened to people who told us that some Indigenous Hawaiians do not want visitors to come to Hawai’i. We learned that Josiah Hester, who had advocated this view in regard to CHI’24, previously met with members of the CHI Steering Committee and the SIGCHI Executive Committee about the site selection process for Hawai’i in May 2022. This meeting was facilitated by the SIGCHI Sustainability and Equity Committees, and was an opportunity for SIGCHI and CHI Steering Committee members to listen to Josiah’s concerns and ask questions. In that meeting, Josiah presented an informative history and context. Members of the Steering Committee and Executive Committee highlighted the potential of significant financial damage to the SIG, and offered to enact any other actions to mitigate harm and promote a responsible and ethical conference, with resources to support.

This meeting took place before the CHI’24 team was formed. Since then, we engaged in a conversation with Josiah, connected to us by the SIGCHI Adjunct Chair for Sustainability, in order to gain insights into what we as the organizing team can do. Josiah offered to help regarding Hawaiian voices at CHI’24 (even though Josiah acknowledged that CHI is not their “main” conference, so this offer to help was particularly appreciated), even to the extent that we offered Josiah to join our team; Josiah respectfully declined due to insufficient time availability.

Nevertheless, Josiah offered to help (such as contacting a local Hawaiian immersion bi-lingual public school in Kāneʻohe Hawaiʻi with 62% of students of Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) descent), as Josiah’s idea was to expose them to the Interactivity venue, however, teachers and students were hesitant to engage due to past negative experiences with technologists on-island, and hence declined, indicating the complexity of the situation). We offered to support all suggestions that were made at the time. Unfortunately, later, at the time of the wildfires, Josiah politely informed us in an email they are no longer available to help and instead feel they need to petition to not submit, review for, or attend CHI instead. We can only imagine what an event such as the wildfires that affected so many Hawaiians has had and understand that this is a very hard time for Josiah and we wish Josiah and family the best during this time. We respect Josiah’s decision.

We note that we also engaged in conversations, such as when we conducted the site visit, with local staff and business owners that support the conference (we understand that many “local” staff we engaged with are based in Hawai‘i but are not indigenous nor native to the islands, so acknowledge that we have a limited view). These conversations involved our local arrangement chairs; they were able to provide complementary perspectives. Taken together, it seems that we could make the following points. First, the indigenous Hawaiians (Kānaka Maoli) are not one single group and hence have a range of views about tourism and to what extent they reject or welcome it. Furthermore, overall, it appears from our perspective, (while we acknowledge that it is impossible to get a fully balanced picture that spans all perspectives, as much as Josiah told us that they do not represent Hawaiians, “as no one does”) that CHI is welcome as long as everyone is a good guest. Of course, what is a “good guest” is not always easy to put into clear actionable terms (but some things are more obvious than others, for example, not littering the beaches). We believe it is important to engage with this deeply. Therefore, we find that trying to be a “good guest” can guide a range of actions but also involves work about learning and attending to indigenous history including its struggles and successes. Getting this right is not always easy, we learned. For example, we point to the practice of many events (such as other conferences) featuring a Lūʻau, a Hawaiian feast featuring music and cultural performances from Hawaiʻi and greater Polynesia. On the one hand, people told us that this can be a rich cultural experience, on the other hand, people also told us that this falls into the “kitsch” and over-tourism category.

Another point that might be worthwhile making is that locals (who are not Hawaiian, known as Kamaʻāina) are also impacted by tourism (which can account for up to 70% of every dollar generated, depending on the island), both negatively and positively, for example, there appears to be a shortage of local housing for teachers as a result.

The New York Times recently highlights how tourism often comes down to “respect” in regards to what makes a “good guest” (the article focuses on tourism in response to the wildfires in Maui, but probably holds true beyond that). To complement this, an article from the Guardian discusses the local impact that tourism can have, here in regards to water and the wildfires, but again, we believe that responsible tourism applies across the islands at all times.

Of course, we want to help everyone to be “good guests”. We have plans for promoting responsible tourism, our professional partners are also on board and we work with a (state-owned) conference venue (sole convention center in the USA with a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold Certification) that advocates social responsibility. We also welcome community suggestions.

Carbon cost

We know that, for many, CHI’24 is further away than previous CHI conferences. However, it is also closer to others, such as those from the Australasia region. We know that the carbon cost of flying is huge compared to what we can do on the ground.

Some of the things we have already planned:

We decided that we needed to make the decision about supporting remote attendance early on so that people can plan well in advance. Publication of an archival CHI paper is a key factor for many careers, so we have designed a papers programme that separates publication from presentation and does not require authors to travel to present their work. There are also numerous ways to participate remotely and face-to-face in other tracks at CHI. Of course, we know that onsite is not the same as offsite (especially considering the time zone that Hawai‘i is in), and therefore we do not claim that these experiences will be the same. Instead, we focus on making sure that expectations on both ends are as clear as possible.

We also know that carbon offsetting is not a panacea (nor perfect in any sense of way), however, aim to offer this option within the registration process. Furthermore, we also considered remote “mini-CHI” hubs in geographically strategic locations, however, this was not feasible considering ACM restrictions around what is considered a “venue”. In the future, there might be ways to remove these restrictions, however, within our timeline, this was not viable.

We have also worked hard to be able to announce the CHI deadlines, not just the paper deadline, for all submission venues, including their notification dates, much earlier than usual. We did this in order to allow people to plan any travel, if they chose to travel, in advance, to make it easier to combine it with other travel, to potentially reduce associated carbon impact. This early announcement of CHI deadlines might hopefully also help with the wellbeing of authors who can plan ahead earlier.

Furthermore, we have plans to work with our professional staff to keep the environmental impact on the site low, such as using sustainable materials and focusing on vegetarian food. The hotel selection also focused on hotels that are within walking distance.

In sum, we agree that travelling to CHI (and any other conference) should not be taken lightly and should be carefully considered. So, therefore, please consider the above points and make an informed choice. Either way, we would love to see you at CHI’24, whether in person or online.

Submission site opening

We are aware of the time overlap between the submission site being opened and the wildfires, and that this was, of course, unfortunate. We apologize if this caused any offense. Dates for all deadlines in the papers programme are decided and publicised many months in advance based on the complexity of requirements placed on authors and timelines needed to complete the review process and meet the publication deadlines. One option would have been to delay the opening of the submission site. We felt that this might have put an additional burden on authors who want to submit, but could not get themselves familiar with how to prepare their submission. As we aimed to give people more time to prepare for CHI’24 (as with our announcements of the deadlines early), we thought it is important to stick to our established timelines to support authors who want to prepare early.

Safety

The wildfire mentioned above is on the island of Maui. It seems important to note that the state of Hawai’i consists of 8 major islands (137 in total), and the CHI conference location is on O‘ahu, in the capital city. Although it is not a secret that Hawai’i has a rich history of natural events that have caused safety concerns in the past, such as volcanic eruptions on the Big Island, there are currently no severe safety concerns for the capital city. We acknowledge that we, at this stage, do not know what impact air aid travel for Maui will have on the conference (as HNL is the main hub), but we will let you know once we know more.

There is more information about safety online, for example, this website lists the natural disaster risk for Honolulu due to tsunamis, tropical storms, flooding, and volcanic eruption as “medium”.

Cost

Cost is always an important factor for any CHI, and especially for CHI’24 as previous CHIs suffered losses due to first Covid and then AV costs. Cancelling or relocating a CHI conference costs millions and can only be done by the Executive Committee, Steering Committee and ACM and would severely impact SIGCHI’s budget and hence, we believe, lose the stability and harm the future existence of SIGCHI.
We know that traveling to Hawai’i is costly for disproportionally many members of the CHI community (while for others, for example from New Zealand, CHI’24 is a more affordable option compared to other CHIs in the past). That is one reason why we support remote attendance. We also worked on trying to secure competitively low hotel rates. This is challenging considering that the conference venue is near some of the most popular locations on the island. There are also the travel grants from SIGCHI.

Conclusion

We hope that the above helps explain why CHI’24 is located where it is, and what we are doing to be “good guests”. We hope that you decide to participate in CHI’24. We understand that not everyone wants to/can travel, and hence support remote participation. If you decide not to submit to CHI, this is also a decision we respect. We believe that participating in CHI, whether as an author or attendee and joining onsite or remotely, is helpful for the HCI community. We will try our best to ensure that it is also helpful for the local community, and we need your help, as only by coming together can we achieve this. Regardless of your choice, we urge you to consider donating to help those affected by the wildfires.

Let us once more extend our heartfelt gratitude for everyone’s understanding and support that has been provided since our journey began. People’s dedication to the CHI community is truly invaluable, and together, we look forward to a conference that not only fosters impactful research but also embodies resilience and solidarity.

Thank you, the CHI’24 team.

Note: This blog post was drafted originally by the CHI’24 team and then given for feedback to the CHI Steering Committee and the SIGCHI Executive Committee. We also invited Josiah Hester to provide feedback and thank Josiah for doing so. We also thank those that gave us additional pointers (such as what other conferences do), special thanks to Helena Mentis, Jen Mankoff, Katherine Isbister and Xiang Li. The ideas expressed are not necessarily the views of SIGCHI, the Executive Committee, the Steering Committee or ACM as a whole. Please feel free to contact the respective chairs for questions, all the emails are on the organizing page, and we also feature a direct link to the steering committee from there.

Personal note by Floyd (GC)

One of the key aspects we identified early on for CHI’24 was the wellbeing of everyone involved. What we realized back when we started organizing over a year ago is that, at least for the volunteers, work-life balance appeared to have worsened for many post-Covid. This was reflected in the answers we received when looking for volunteers: many people find volunteering challenging at this time. Hence, we really appreciate everyone who did volunteer to help CHI’24.

We thank everyone who gave constructive feedback on the issues above. It makes me, however, very sad to learn that authors of some of the negative messages we received do not seem to be aware that there are real people (oftentimes early in their careers) reading these messages. Real people who have given their time to help the CHI family. We need to be able to freely exchange ideas with dignity and mutual respect. I point to the vision and values statement from the CHI Steering Committee. CHI is run by volunteers, and they are real people who have a right to be treated with respect. We must strive to engage with each other with kindness and tolerance. Thank you.