Why CHI2024 is in Hawai’i

There have been critiques of the placement of CHI2024 in Honolulu, Hawai’i. We view them as predominantly concerned with a) indigenous Hawaiian advocacy organizations have called for a decolonization of the islands, which includes eliminating the harm done by hosting academic conferences, and b) the environmental impact of a conference far from many population centers.

We appreciate the passion and commitment of our community members who actively advocate for environmental and anti-colonial justice. The CHI steering committee has learned a lot about these issues from the arguments being made, and we appreciate the opportunity to improve our understanding of these important issues.

This post is intended to explain the process behind CHI site selection more broadly, and the decision to be in Hawai’i more specifically.

CHI Site Selection

A much longer version of the process behind site selection is available here: https://chi.acm.org/what-is-the-site-selection-process-for-chi-conferences/ 

Typically, CHI site selection starts 5+ years before the intended date of the conference, with contracts being signed with venues 2-3 years before the conference. Several years ago, SIGCHI leadership decided on a global rotation plan for CHI, with a rotation between North America, Europe, East Asia and more recently an option to include other locations outside of that cycle.

For each of these areas of the world, we send out bids to different cities that have a convention center that can accommodate the needs for CHI. Some of these are based on format – a convention center with an exhibit hall and 20+ parallel session rooms is extremely hard to find and does limit the number of venues that can accommodate our needs. Some of the parameters are based on our commitment to the community – including accessibility of the venue, safety of the city/nation for our members, and cost. It’s hard to find centers that are the perfect blend of these characteristics, but our site selection team considers them all, as do all SC members and EC members when the choices are presented to them for ratification.

Another consideration is how the location either inconveniences groups of attendees, or possibly supports them. We understand that the strategy of moving the conference every year to try and spread around inconvenient locations is sometimes unsatisfactory, and proposals we’ve been discussing are a more limited rotation and engaging with SIGCHI’s Sustainability Committee on modelling carbon costs. In general, a site is selected and a contract signed well before we start to recruit volunteers to run the conference. In other words, the organizers of any year’s conference typically have no influence on where the conference is.

How Hawai’i was selected

As far back as 2015 when CHI was in Seoul, there was a discussion of Hawai’i as a North American location that would help bridge future conferences in East Asia and keep invigorating the Pacific Rim CHI communities. If you’re in China, Japan, South Korea, Australia or other active HCI communities in that region, CHI has been especially tough location-wise for the past 20 years. A decision was made to try and support these communities, and Hawai’i was chosen for the 2020 conference as a bridge to the 2021 conference that was to return to Asia. 

As we all know, CHI2020 had to be canceled due to the global COVID pandemic. The contractors we have in Honolulu were very decent and understanding about forgiving contractual items. What could have been a financial disaster was mitigated due to their support. One reason we decided to go back to both Hawai’i and, later, Japan was to support vendors who had supported us in one of our most vulnerable moments.

Additionally, we did look at other sites for CHI2024, with our rotation plan being to place somewhere in western North America. We investigated San Diego, but they did not have dates available. Given the long time frame of assessing venues, the process for figuring out a location for CHI2024 happened during the height of the COVID pandemic. Travel restrictions made it difficult to assess some other locations, but working with the ACM we found that other conference centers (e.g. Phoenix) would not support the CHI format. Site selection during a pandemic is not straightforward, so our familiarity with the Hawai’i Convention Center, along with their previous support for us, made them the optimal remaining choice. Familiarity is important in this in that we have made a commitment to the physical accessibility of a location, and being unable to visit locations made it hard to assess multiple locations on that dimension.

Another reason a decision was made to repeat the Hawai’i to Japan sequence in 2024 and 2025 was for the same reasons they had been picked in the first place – to support our global communities.

Consequences of moving or canceling CHI2024

As we describe above, contracts for venues take years to develop. If we started right now, we might be able to move the conference two years out. The only option for CHI2024 would be to cancel the in-person conference altogether or to have an online only event.

The consequences of that would be devastating for CHI and for other SIGCHI conferences. There is no “force majeure” reason to cancel the conference at this time. We would have to pay the full contract amounts to both the venue and the hotels with which we have contracts. This could be two million dollars (or more) of loss to SIGCHI. What those millions go to otherwise would be support for members not just in CHI, but across all SIGCHI conferences. CHI money *is* SIGCHI money, and we all share the same bank account at the end of the day. This would jeopardize travel grants, money for special projects, support for struggling research communities and other things that SIGCHI does so ably to support a broad range of scholars.

CHI2024 organizers deserve support

Many volunteers in our community work hard on service to produce our proceedings and organize our conferences. Reviewing, chairing, SVing, organizing workshops – it takes a broad array of us to make the SIGCHI community work. We speak from experience when we say running a CHI is one of the weightiest service responsibilities there is. We ask for grace for the organizers of CHI2024, and a culture of care for our fellow volunteers. We also recognize that some of our community members will choose to not submit to or attend CHI 2024 because it is in Hawai’i. For these members of our community, we encourage you to consider one of SIGCHI’s other 25 conferences as a venue to submit your work.

Moving towards the Future of CHI

The CHI Steering Committee is listening to the concerns that have been raised, and we are confident that these concerns WILL have an effect. Each year we find new parameters that inform site selection. Sustainability and anti-colonial justice will surely join these issues as something that shapes the future of the conference. It is frustrating when a big ship like CHI can’t turn on a dime, but it can and will turn and we appreciate the community’s efforts in helping steer us to a better future.