- Interaction of SIGs and their Conferences
- The Question of Overhead
- ACM Conference Approval Procedures
- Co-Sponsoring Conferences
- Initiating New Conferences
- SIG Activities and the Conference Schedule
- Being "In-Cooperation" with Other Groups
- ACM/IEEE CS Health of Conferences
Probably the most well-known programs of the SIGs and ACM are the conferences, symposia and workshops that are sponsored and co-sponsored each year. In FY '07, there were close to 150 events, ranging in size from SIGGRAPH to workshops with as few as 20 participants.
Nearly all SIGs have one conference, and many SIGs have several. The number of conferences sponsored by a SIG largely depends on the intellectual field the SIG covers. In some areas, the primary (or flagship) conference has continuously expanded over the years. Other areas have seen the development of a number of medium-sized conferences that focus on specific areas of research. Some SIGs, unfortunately, experience a decline in interest in their areas of expertise, and a concomitant decline in size of their conference.
The SIG (and ACM) stands behind its conferences, legally and financially. ACM carries insurance that provides general and liability insurance coverage for sponsored and co-sponsored conferences. Completing the TMRF with the signature of the SIG Chair completes the paperwork needed for the insurance to be in effect, and transfers legal and financial responsibility to the SIG and ACM organization.
For a sponsored or co-sponsored conference or other event, the SIG (and ACM standing behind the SIG) are liable for any financial misjudgments on the part of the conference leadership or events (natural or otherwise) that impact the conference.
Three terms are often used with respect to conferences. A Workshop is a focused event, attended by 100 people or fewer. A Symposium generally indicates a technical meeting with 100 to 300 attendees. The term Conference indicates attendance of 300 or more.
B. Interaction of SIGs and their Conferences
Conference leadership is usually chosen by the SIG leadership or by the conference steering committee with the approval of the SIG. These are important positions, with time-consuming responsibilities, and the positions should not be undertaken lightly.
Generally, SIG leaders (often through a single contact person) are kept in the loop on the overall progress of the conference (and are consulted on any substantive changes to the conference focus or schedule) and any major problems that come up. However, the specific oversight of the conference is in the hands of the General Chair.
In many SIGs, one person holds responsibility for conference matters, often the Vice Chair. This person is the primary contact point for conference leaders, providing advice as needed and feeding information to the SIG Executive Committee. Some SIGs have one person who works with sponsored and co-sponsored conferences, and another who works with requests for in cooperation status.
Another useful point for information for current conference leaders is the experiences of past conference leaders. Some SIGs or conference steering committees have conference websites where these collections can be seen. Some are using wikis to post information and advice from past conference leaders.
Conference leadership usually changes from year to year. The expectation is generally that the conference general chair and program chair will have had a meaningful role in a past conference, making them familiar with the pace of the conference and the expectations of conference attendees in terms of special events and social activities (the general chair), or the workings of the program committee (the program chair). As noted above, both general chair and program chair positions require substantial time on the part of the individual.
Some SIGs organize their conferences several years in advance, making it possible for future conference leaders to have minor leadership roles in prior years. Other SIGs look to those who have had minor leadership roles or served on program committees as candidates for general chair and program chair.
Conferences that have their own steering committees generally should also have at least one member of the SIG Executive Committee actively involved. This person then provides a natural conduit for information to flow back and forth between the Executive Committee and the Steering Committee.
The SIG Treasurer and the conference treasurer should consult as necessary on conference finances.
C. The Question of Overhead
The question of overhead included in conference budgets can be a point of misunderstanding between SIG and conference. The way the finances work at ACM, the sponsoring SIGs incur an overhead fee on all expenses in the course of a year, including the expenses of their conferences. (Co-sponsored conferences are divided in proportion to the percentage of SIG sponsorship.) When the conference is budgeted, the conference portion of that overhead is included in the conference budget, to be returned to the SIG and then to ACM in payment of the fees owed.
SIG leaders need to understand that a conference chair is faced with a budgeting process that requires a percentage be set aside for overhead and a portion be set aside for contingency. In budgeting conferences, ACM is looking for a break-even conference based on reasonable attendance and at a reasonable fee for attendees. The SIG wants to continue its tradition of strong conferences. The conference chair often wants a memorable conference. These goals can come into conflict in the conference budgeting process. (See ACM Conference Manual for additional details on the budgeting process.)
The SIG can approve a lower contingency percentage or a lower overhead percentage, but in doing so the SIG is increasing its own risk for the conference, since it is the SIG that must make up any shortfall, just as the SIG takes the loss if any sponsored or co-sponsored conference loses money. The overhead is calculated based on the expenses of the SIG and its conferences, and is due from the SIG. The overhead charged to the conference is transferred to the SIG, then onto to ACM.
D. ACM Conference Approval Procedures
There are three parts to the TMRF, the Technical Meeting Request Form, that form the basic approval process for conferences at ACM. The preliminary form is submitted first, and for repeating conferences allows the hotel negotiations and publicity for the conference to get underway (including listing in the ACM Conference Calendar). Information needed at this point includes dates, possible locations, conference chair and program chair, and details of sponsorship or co-sponsorship.
For the first occurrence of a conference, the full TMRF must be submitted before the conference is listed on the ACM Conference Calendar or other publicity can begin.
The second part of the TMRF is the budget for conference income and expenses, done on a spreadsheet. The conference budget should be completed at least six months prior to the conference, and earlier for larger conferences. Usually the conference chair and the treasurer are primary points of contact with ACM staff on this. The actual income and expenses for the prior year conferences are excellent sources for estimates for conference costs.
SIG approval is required on conference budgets.
E. Co-Sponsoring Conferences
Why are conferences co-sponsored? Some conferences focus on the intersection of areas of interest of several SIGs. For example, the Conference on Embedded Network Sensor Systems (SenSys) looks at topics of interest to the members of SIGCOMM, SIGMOBILE, SIGARCH, SIGBED, SIGMETRICS, and SIGOPS, and is sponsored by those six SIGs each year. (Conferences usually have two or three sponsors.) Co-sponsoring within the ACM framework is relatively simple, with signing of the PAF by the SIG leaders agreeing to sponsoring percentages of the SIGs involved. As the sponsorship is more complex, it is important to have understandings about rotation of conference leadership within the sponsoring groups, agreement on the focus for the conference, and establishment of a conference steering committee with all parties represented.
Often SIG conferences are co-sponsored by a SIG and by another group, such as IEEE CS. A cosponsor needs to be an incorporated, not-for-profit entity (or the equivalent in another country). Usually there is a written agreement (either a memo of understanding or a joint sponsorship agreement) that specifies the percentage of sponsorship for each cosponsor, who owns the conference and its logo, how the proceedings are to be handled (often alternate year publication), agreement on providing administrative support for the conference (also often alternate years), how long the agreement lasts, and how the agreement can be ended by any of the sponsors. Staff in SIG Services have access to templates for agreements of this type, and can assist with them.
Note that conferences held outside the United States are sometimes co-sponsored with local, not-for-profit organizations. Generally, a specific joint sponsorship agreement should be signed by both parties that spells out responsibilities and financial and legal understandings in relation to the conference. Generally, all sponsors share in the overhead. Some local sponsors may also provided services to the conference for a fee, and such arrangements should be included in the agreement to avoid confusion later.
F. Initiating New Conferences
Sometimes as new areas of interest emerge, the need for a new conference is apparent. Sometimes a new conference emerges as workshops co-located with major conferences grow in impact and attendance. Sometimes a group of people with a shared interest will approach a SIG with an idea for a new conference. The SIG leadership itself may see an upcoming area where an event specific to the field will be welcome.
There are several ways a SIG can help a budding new event flourish. It may make sense to start with a workshop, in order to see the quality of papers submitted and the enthusiasm for the topic. Another option is to co-locate the new event with a long-standing event with an audience that has a likely potential of interest in the new event. This reduces the cost to attend the new event. Another option is to add a track focusing on the new area to an existing conference. In any case, the SIG should expect to support a new event financially for the first several instantiations.
G. SIG Activities and the Conference Schedule
The flagship conference of a SIG is often a point where the SIG itself is very visible, with various awards being presented, meetings (both Executive Committee and Membership Meetings), etc. Coordination is required to have these SIG events fit smoothly into the flow of the conference. Early contact between SIG and conference leaders is highly recommended.
Annual SIG Business Meeting. SIGs usually have an annual meeting, mandated by their Bylaws. One good place to have that annual meeting is the SIG's flagship conference. Most annual meetings are scheduled to last an hour or so, often at the end of the afternoon session or poster session.
Joining SIG through Conference Registration. Some SIGs offer the option of joining the SIG as part of registering for the conference. Logistical details for this need to be worked out prior to the conference, including whether the SIG membership is included in the conference budget.
SIG Awards. Many SIGs use their flagship conference as the point to announce major SIG awards. SIG and conference leaders need to work closely to schedule the giving of the awards, allowing for speeches and recognition that go with the honors.
SIG Executive Committee Meeting Since many of the SIG Executive Committee members normally attend the SIG flagship conference, it is often convenient to schedule an Executive Committee meeting around that time and place. The afternoon or evening prior to the opening of the conference, or a time just following the conference are often convenient options. Conference leaders need to be consulted aware of the plans for the meeting as well.
Other organizations sponsor conferences, workshops and other technical meetings that may be of interest to members of SIGs. Sometimes these other conferences or organizations request a formal relationship with the SIG, in cooperation status. The ACM SIGs have no legal or financial responsibility for in-cooperation events.
ACM SIGs welcome the opportunity to grant cooperating status to interesting conferences, workshops and other technical meetings that may be of interest to members, especially in new areas that are not covered by existing events. The in cooperation status of such events must be approved by the appropriate SIG Executive Committee, after consideration of the quality of the event. Generally, certain requirements are met before granting approval.
The motivation for approving in-cooperation status is to provide high quality outlets for events relevant to ACM SIGs, but not falling under sponsorship or co-sponsorship agreements.Approval must be requested for each event, including those that have been granted approval in previous years. Events seeking approval for in-cooperation status with ACM/SIGs must submit an In-Cooperation Technical Meeting Request Form, which can be found in the Conference Manual.
Benefits of In Cooperation to Conference For the conference, the benefits of holding a meeting in cooperation with ACM SIGs includes:
- Meeting organizers may use the ACM SIG name/logo on all meeting publicity and promotional materials.
- If space is available, meeting organizers may receive an opportunity to announce the meeting free of charge in the SIG newsletter and/or other publication.
- Meeting will be publicized in the Call for Papers and Professional Calendar sections of Communications of the ACM, free of charge.
- Meeting will be publicized in the ACM on-line conference calendar.
- Meeting organizers may purchase an advertisement in Communications of the ACM at a special rate. (Ad placement should be arranged through ACM Headquarters, with CACM advising as to lead time required.) Discounted access to ACM mailing lists is also available.
- Meeting's proceedings is eligible to be considered for inclusion in the ACM Digital Library.
Basic Requirements. There are some basic requirements for holding a meeting in cooperation with one (or more) SIGs:
- The meeting's topic must be relevant to the scope of the SIG.
- The meeting must have an open call for participation and a clearly documented review and evaluation process.
- The meeting cannot be sponsored by a for-profit organization or an individual.
- Registration costs must be reasonable.
- Members of ACM or the SIG must receive the lowest discounted registration fee.
- The "hold harmless" section of the TMRF must be signed by an authorized representative of the sponsoring organizations.
- A certificate of insurance or letter of financial responsibility from the sponsor must also be submitted with the TMRF (NOTE: the certificate of insurance is waived if the sponsor of the in-cooperation event is IEEE).
- Submission of a brief final report to the SIG Executive Committee (e.g., the event's attendance statistics, the event's final program, plans for subsequent meetings, etc.).
The Executive Committee of each SIG oversees the granting of in cooperation status for conferences.
Optional Additional Requirements. In addition to the basic requirements just listed, a SIG Executive Committee may want to identify additional requirements for in cooperation status. The list below includes some items currently required by some SIGs.
- Conference proceedings to be made available for inclusion in the ACM Digital Library. If this requirement is in effect, conference organizers must supply written permission from the publisher at time of TMRF submission.
- The meeting must be of high quality, more specifically: (a) the meeting organizers, including the general chair, program committee chair, and the program committee, must be known for their quality work.
- Papers must be reviewed by multiple reviewers.
- The ratio of submitted to accepted papers must be reasonable.
- The meeting's dates must not conflict with the other conferences sponsored by the SIG.
- The call for papers (CFP) must be made available to distribute to SIG members through its publication. CFP must be submitted at least two months in advance of publication.
- A one-page advertisement for the ACM/SIG must be published in the event proceedings and/or program, free of charge.
- Flyers for additional SIG events must be distributed to attendees.
- One copy of the event proceedings must be sent to ACM and will be forwarded to the SIG leadership.
- If proceedings are to appear in the ACM DL, leaders are required to send electronic version to ACM. If this is not received, multi-year approvals may be rescinded and future requests for cooperating status could be denied.
- Membership information for the SIG may be offered to attendees.
- Submission of a brief final report to the SIG Executive Committee (e.g., the event's attendance statistics, the event's final program, plans for subsequent meetings, etc.).
Reminder: ACM and ACM SIGs are not financially or legally responsible for in-cooperation events.
After Approval. Once the SIG leadership has approved the in cooperation status and the In Cooperation TMRF has been submitted to and approved by ACM, the following actions are expected:
- SIG must be allowed to publicize the event on its website.
- All promotional materials must include the ACM/SIG logo and state that the event is being held in-cooperation with the appropriate ACM/SIG.
- The ACM/SIG logo must be posted on the conference website and must appear on all promotional materials.
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In March 2020 ACM formed a Presidential Task Force (PTF) to help conference organizers transition their events to online. The PTF is working on a guide to offer practical advice and shed light on the largely unfamiliar territory of online conferencing.
The report, available here, includes pointers to a live document with additional resources. We welcome comments, suggestions and experience reports from the community.