The Social Design of a Local SIG
April 1997 Local SIGs column
Are your local chapter event and communication rhythms cyclic? How do the personalities of your local chapter's leaders affect chapter athmosphere? Does your local chapter have appropriate membership rituals? Does your chapter need a written code of conduct?
According to Amy Jo Kim (founder and creative director of Naima, a San Francisco Bay Area design studio), these are the kinds of questions of importance to the design of a successful local SIG. More generally (and to express Amy Jo's position abit more accurately), consideration of the issues addressed by these kinds of questions is of importance to the design of a sustained community -- something all local chapters strive to be. Amy Jo analyzes communities of many types and applies the lessons of this analysis to the design of cutting-edge virtual communities.
Key Elements of Social Design
At a December '96 Stanford University seminar, Amy Jo outlined what she has concluded are key elements of "social design" -- of "ritual reality." Here are those key elements, with a few words about how to consider them in the design of a local SIG.
Purpose of the Organization. What is the purpose of your local SIG? Is it meeting a real need? Organizations that do not meet a real need do not survive. If you are interested in starting a local chapter or if your local chapter is struggling, pay attention to the nature and clarity of its purpose. If your local chapter is struggling now but was once very successful, revisit how and why the chapter was created to rediscover the organization's original purpose and to examine whether that purpose has inappropriately changed or needs to change.
Rituals & Requirements of Membership. Is anything noticeable done when someone joins your local SIG? Does your local SIG have any membership requirements? Does your local SIG have adequate membership benefits? Does your local SIG even utilize the concept of membership? Acknowledging membership and making membership special motivates people to become members and provides an important sense of connection.
Participation & Personality of the Leader. In what ways do your local SIG's leaders affect chapter activities and athmosphere? According to Amy Jo, the role of the leader is critical. How active are your leaders? Do your leaders enable and invite member participation? Do your leaders inspire and provide a sense of trust? Do they acknowledge others who make the Local SIG happen? Do they move the local SIG forward?
Guidance for New Members. What help does your local SIG provide for new members? Are how things work, what participants can and cannot do, and how participants can and cannot benefit obvious to newcomers? Design your local SIG interface for the novice as well as the experienced user.
Growth Opportunities for Established Members. Do you permit members to increase their level of participation in the organization? Are the provided opportunities varied and valuable? Can established members play a mix of roles? Involve the willing and the qualified in creating, maintaining, or extending your local SIG and its activities.
Handling Disputes & Disruptions. How an organization handles disputes and disruptions is often key to its survival. Such problems will occur within every local SIG, but sometimes they are beneficial. Is your local SIG prepared to handle problems appropriately? Does it need policies or rules of conduct to prevent certain conflicts or to guide their resolution? Are any rules it already has adequately accessible by its members?
Cyclic Rhythms for Events & Communications. How regular is the occurrence of your local SIG's activities? Does your local SIG utilize a desirable mix of short-term and long-term rhythms? Is there even any detectable rhythm to what is done? Of great importance to the success of a community is the cyclic occurrence of social ritual around which members can structure a portion of their lives.
Exploration of these key elements of social design, including examination of how they are, aren't, and could be attended to by different chapters, formed a portion of the agenda of a workshop I led last month at CHI'97 on Designing Successful Local Chapters. I'll report on this workshop in upcoming columns.
(See Amy Jo's article, "Getting into the grove: Designing for participation" in the April '95 issue of interactions for related information/ideas.)
Informing Others of Your Local SIG's (Prospective) Existence
To some, getting started on the "social design" of a local SIG first requires finding others to be social with. Lisa Dieken in West Des Moines, Iowa, is an example of such a person. To date, her solicitations of interest in creating a local SIG in Central Iowa have prompted no replies. Indeed, there are only a handful of people within the entire state of Iowa who are SIGCHI members. Do you know of anyone in Iowa working in or interested in the field of computer-human interaction? If so, please contact Lisa or ask those people to contact Lisa. You can find Lisa's contact information on the inside, back cover of this Bulletin, along with contact information for other people interested in starting a SIGCHI chapter and for leaders of chartered chapters.
Note that every local SIG can receive mailing labels for all ACM members in its geographic area; one set is obtainable from ACM at no cost once each year. Each chartered local chapter can also obtain web page space from ACM. Contact me for further information.
All chartered and prospective Local SIGs are advertised on SIGCHI's Local SIGs web page (http://www.acm.org/sigchi/local-sigs/). Each chapter should also consider advertising its existence and its events in online newsgroups or mailing lists, to related local SIGs (e.g., its local ACM chapter), to local academic and professional organizations, and in its local press.
Richard I. Anderson, Local SIGs Chair