HCI in Latin America: Getting Together

Cleotilde González

Carnegie Mellon University-GSIA

5000 Forbes
Pittsburgh PA 15213. USA

conzalez@andrew.cmu.edu
 
 
 
 

Alfredo Sánchez

Universidad de las Américas-Puebla.

Cholula, Puebla. 72820. México

alfredo@mail.udlap.mx
 
 
 
 

Raquel O. Prates

Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro

R. Marquês de São Vicente, 225

Gávea Rio de Janeiro - RJ - Brazil 22453-900

raquel@tecgraf.puc-rio.br

ACM-SIGCHI has been working towards fostering internationalization, and has created the International Issues Committee (IIC) (Novick, 98). The IIC has detected a series of challenges for increasing international collaboration. Working around various differences among communities from different countries represents one of these challenges. Major differences are related to such areas as intellectual and research traditions, perception of HCI, industry involvement, infrastructure for research, and economic situations. We believe that, one way to foster international cooperation is to create "cultural clusters," that is, groups that share similar culture, problems and other characteristics. Although Latin American countries are both, very similar and very different, most Latin American countries share language, religion, political and economic systems. Thus, we believe that bringing Latin Americans together the  and creating a Latin American HCI community may will allow us to join our efforts and find solutions to common challenges and problems.

The first step taken towards creating such a community was to bring Latin Americans physically together in the context of an CHI Conference. Latin Americans involved in HCI research and development met for the first time during the CHI99 conference. An informal interest group (SIG) took place and discussed collaboration and participation in HCI research and development among Latin American countries, as well as with other countries (Gonzalez, Sanchez and Prates, 1999).

Twenty-seven people participated in the SIG. Participating Latin American countries were: Argentina, Aruba, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, El Salvador and Venezuela. Other people delegates from the USA, and The Netherlands and France also participated. During the 90 minutes provided available for this meeting we presented the challenges for international collaboration identified by the IIC, and invited the participants to an open discussion leading towards the identification of the possible solutions to those challenges in our own countries. Next we present the major results from this meeting:
 
 

Research Traditions and Infrastructure

HCI as a field is very new in Latin America. For instance, only two Latin American Countries have a local SIG (http://www.acm.org/sigchi/local-sigs/). Nevertheless, HCI research is not new. Several institutions and universities work on projects and teach courses in HCI. Most projects however, are not recognized identified as HCI, but rather classified as more traditional Computer Science research areas, such as Software Engineering and Artificial Intelligence.

Major requirements raised in order to foster the development of a research tradition in HCI in Latin America are: (1) to increase HCI awareness in the universities and industry, and (2) to achieve critical mass. The necessity to disseminate knowledge in Latin America about HCI is very important. Many people still do not know what are not aware about HCI is and its role in software design. Recently, several universities in Latin America have incorporated general courses in HCI into the Computer Science curricula. However, we require an effective way to disseminate knowledge and motivate both universities and industries to get involved in HCI as a field. We believe we have critical mass, however we don't have the necessary infrastructure to reach people. For instance, Mexico and Brazil are two very large and intellectually diverse countries. Meeting people face-to-face in on a regular basis to discuss HCI research is almost impossible. Thanks to technology and intellectual initiative, Mexico has started a set series of "virtual meetings" to discuss various topics in the CHI-Mexico group. However, regular face-to-face meetings are still necessary.
 
 

Economic disparities

Doing research in Latin America is a difficult endeavor. Latin American researchers and developers are faced not only with the natural difficulty that research work imposes, but also with frustration due to lack of equipment, material, infrastructure and financial support for doing research.

Economic disparity in Latin American countries is a key factor for participation and international cooperation. Latin American countries are frequently rated according to their participation and publications in internationally recognized association and journals. However, economic disparities make this evaluation very unfair. Membership costs for any international computing association are too high for any average university professor, and they are almost impossible for students. People are interested but do not have the resources to pay for travel and conference expenses for CHI or other SIGCHI conferences.

Economic support is required to help Latin American researchers develop infrastructure, and to bring HCI knowledge and development. Several approaches to address the economic disparities might be considered. For example, the  professional societies (such as ACM/SIGCHI) might could: apply different membership costs fees based on the country of residency; sponsor scientific projects to group research with internationally recognized institutions; sponsor speakers to go to Latin America's conferences and meetings; provide technology and information like the ACM's digital library for Latin American researchers' use at preferential rates. These, as well as other ideas to support research and development of HCI in Latin America would help in building local HCI communities and improving cooperation among them.
 
 

Initial Actions

During the meeting we decided that we needed an identity and easy and cheap ways inexpensive means to improve communication among Latin American HCI researchers. Initially, we agreed to create a discussion list for people interested in HCI in Latin America. This action task has been undertaken. If you Anyone who would like to join the discussion list, please just needs to send a message to listserv@acm.org with a line: "subscribe chi-latina". To send a message to reach all subscribers, messages can be sent write to chi-latina@acm.org.

We have also created a directory of people interested in HCI in Latin America, organized by country. You can see this www site at the URL: This directory is available at http://www.acm.org/chapters/chimex/LatinA.html. If you would like your name to be added to this directory, please send a message to: conzalez@andrew.cmu.edu.
 
 

Conclusions

We believe we have started a network for Latin American communication and collaboration in HCI research and development. There is still a long way road ahead, and we know it is not an easy one. But thanks to available technology and ACM/SIGCHI's support we believe we can start disseminating HCI knowledge in our countries and work towards building local HCI communities and cooperation among ourselves to solve common problems, which are our main goal.
 
 

References

Gonzalez C., Sanchez A., Prates R. O. Encouraging CHI Collaboration in Latin America. Proceedings of the CHI99 Extended Abstracts. Pittsburgh PA, May 15-20. pp. 353.

Novick, D (1998). The SIGCHI International issues committee: taking action. Proceedings of the CHI98 summary conference, page 374.