söndag 2 november 2014

Our NordiCHI sustainability workshop

Back in May, I wrote a blog post about the NordiCHI workshop proposal we submitted, "Is there a European strand of Sustainable HCI?".  I also wrote another blog post at the end of June, informing the world that yes indeed, our workshop proposal had been accepted and would you please consider attending the workshop (advertising the workshop in a blog post is yet another way of using this blog). October just turned to November and this blog post treats the pre-conference NordiCHI workshop we organised exactly one week ago, on Sunday October 26.

Of the six organisers, unfortunately only me and my colleague Elina Eriksson could attend the workshop and the conference. We had eight submissions to the workshop but one person had to pull out because he could not secure the travel funds needed, and another person pulled out after he realised he had also registered for the same-day doctoral colloquium. We on the other hand had one person join us later, after the deadline. He was allowed to participate despite not having submitted a position paper - he instead submitted his ph.d. thesis a few days before the workshop. Here's a list of the nine workshop participants as well as their position papers.

We started the workshop by getting to know each other - each person had prepared a nine-picture three-minute Pecha Kucha presentation and we followed up with some questions and answers. As expected, many of the participants had had problems answering or contributing to the nominal topic of the workshop. We followed up the Pecha Kucha with a "fishbowl" exercise to pick up ideas and trends in participants’ presentations and to go on from there. I have participated in a fishbowl exercise once before, but had never myself organised one before. Still, the results exceeded my expectations. After lunch we had some small-group discussions followed by reporting back to the larger group and discussing the results. We ended the workshop with some strategic thinking - how can we, the participants of the workshop, promote sustainability and Sustainable HCI in Europe and as a topic at the NordiCHI conference?

As to the question of whether there is a difference between Europe and the US, here are some suggestions about possible differences we brought with us to the workshop:
- Differences in environmental discourses, for example how we see, value and frame nature in (Northern?) Europe vs the US.
- How (organic) food is framed
- The role of the individual, the family, that state, society, regulation, the market, media etc. (institutions)
- The political dimension - there are green political parties in Europe!
- Climate wars in the US (consensus vs paralysis)
- Cities, municipalities (states) are more involved in research in Europe, for example studying public transportation from an environmental point of view (Europe) vs from a point of view of safety, equity etc. (the US). How can we capitalise on that?
- Environmental justice (proactive vs reactive)
- Funding!

Some issues that were raised at the workshop were:
- Are there differences in methods, in goals and in directions between Europe and the US?
- What about differences between European countries (e.g. Italy vs Finland etc.)
- Is Sustainable HCI big enough to have different "schools"?
- If so, wouldn't the differences between Europe and the US be much smaller than those between the Global North and the Global South?
- What about OzCHI or HCI in Asia more generally (Japan, China, Korea etc.)?
- Are there any unique opportunities for Europe, is there any research that can be done in Europe that is difficult or impossible to conduct in the US?
- Air conditioning is big in the US. Heating is big in (northern) Europe (as well as in the Northern US)

I will skip most of what was discussed before and after lunch and instead point to some of the more action-oriented conclusions and recommendations that came out of the workshop:
- When discussing venues, the ones that seemed to be most interesting for us as a group were CHI, NordiCHI and ICT4S. Other suggested/possible venues were Ubicomp, DIS, CSCW and ECSCW. The Critical Computing conference in Århus next year (held once every 10 years!) is also an interesting venue. We even specifically discussed writing an ICT4S 2029-related paper (here's the actual paper) to that conference. We also discussed journals that are possible/relevant for us to publish in.
- The next ICT4S conference will be held in Copenhagen in September 2015 and the deadline for submitting papers will be in mid-March. That's where we will meet next (if not at the CHI conference in Korea this coming spring)!
- The next NordiCHI conference will be held in Gothenburg two years from now (2016). There is a good chance that sustainability will be promoted as a topic of interest at that conference. This should increase our chances of organising a new workshop there and perhaps also to encourage more persons to submit sustainability-related research papers! Gunnar S, Chris W and Tessy P are interested in helping to organise such a workshop at NordiCHI 2016.
- We should suggest some sustainability-related keynote speakers (as well as other activities) to the NordiCHI'16 organising committee. Rob Hopkins was mentioned, as was Samuel Mann.
- We also discussed the potentially negative effects of large companies having a big stake in HCI as an area if these companies at the same time promote unsustainable practices of various kinds. Could NordiCHI be seens as a non-commercial (or at least a less-commercial) "free zone" where it is possible to ask more "uncomfortable" questions with a focus on HCI beyond big business, on social entrepreneurs and so on.
- We decided to create a a platform for a European Sustainable HCI group in the form of a mailing list. The list will be called EUSHCI and Gunnar Stevens (Univ. of Siegen) will set it up.
- We discussed the possibility of organising a summer school about Sustainable HCI and had some leads and ideas as to funding. We'll see if something could come out of that. A mailing list would be an excellent place to conduct such discussions...
- To get to know each other better, we suggested each participant should nominate one of their own (sustainability-related) papers for others to read. This should preferably have been done before the workshop, but it can also be done afterwards. That's a great way to get to know each other better and also to encourage us as a community to read (and cite) each others' work!

One of our goals of organising the workshop was to start up a European community of Sustainable HCI researchers. I do believe we were successful and that many were energised by participating in the workshop. I hope this is the beginning of a stronger presence of sustainability at the NordiCHI conference as well as more networking and cooperation between European HCI researchers with an interest in these topics. It's a bit silly that European researchers should have to go to the larger CHI conference (usually held in the US) to meet other European researchers with similar interests.

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