Diversity and Inclusion in focus at ACM IMX ’22 and MMSys ’22

Authors (Affiliation): Katrien De Moor (NTNU), Mylene Farias (University of Brasilia), Vinoba Vinayagamoorthy (Samsung, previously BBC R&D), Mark Daly (Technological University of the Shannon), Tara Collingwoode-William (Goldsmiths University of London)

The 13th ACM Multimedia Systems Conference (and its associated workshops: MMVE 2022, NOSSDAV 2022, and GameSys 2022) took place from the 14th – 17th of June 2022 in Athlone, Ireland.  The week after, the ACM International Conference on Interactive Media Experiences took place in Aveiro, Portugal from the 22nd – 24th of June. Both conferences are strongly committed to creating a diverse, inclusive and accessible forum to discuss the latest research on multimedia systems and the technology experiences they enable and have been actively working towards this goal over the last number of years.
While this is challenging in itself, demanding systematic and continuous efforts at various levels, the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic introduced even more challenges. As it has repeatedly been coined (and shown), restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic have had a significant impact on many scholars, such as female academics [1,2], caregivers [3], young scientists [4] and may have exacerbated existing inequalities [5], despite the increased participation possibilities introduced by fully online conferences.
The diversity and inclusion chairs of both IMX and MMSys were therefore highly motivated to adopt a set of measures aimed at stimulating the inclusion of underrepresented groups, offering various possibilities for participation, and raising awareness of diversity (and implications of a lack of diversity) for community development and research activities.

Relevant support and activities

With the generous support from the ACM Special Interest Group on Multimedia (SIGMM) and ACM, the provided support at MMSys’22 and IMX’22 included the following:

  • SIGMM student travel grants:  any student member of SIGMM is eligible to apply for such a grant, however, the students who are the first author of an accepted paper (in any track/workshop) are particularly encouraged to apply. The grants can cover any travel expenses such as airfare/shuttle, hotel and meals (but not conference registration fees).
  • SIGMM carer grants: the carer grants are intended to allow SIGMM members to fully engage with the online event or attend in person. These grants are intended to cover extra costs to help with caring responsibilities — for example, childcare at home or at the destination — which would otherwise limit your participation in the conference.
  • SIGMM-sponsored Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) travel grants: these grants aim to support researchers who self-identify as marginalized and/or underrepresented in the MMSys community  (e.g., scholars who come from non-WEIRD – Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Developed – societies). The EDI grants have also been used to support researchers who lack other/own funding opportunities, as well as scholars from relevant yet underrepresented research areas.
  • Paper mentoring: this instrument was primarily aimed at those who are new to submitting an academic paper. In particular, those in circumstances which are particularly adverse, like for example those for whom English is a second language or those who are authoring a particularly novel submission which may require additional input, could apply for paper mentoring. 

In addition to the above measures, MMSys’22 also offered excellent mentoring activities for both PhD students and postdocs and more advanced researchers. The PhD mentoring was organized by the doctoral consortium chairs Patrick Le Callet and Carsten Griwodz and PhD students had the possibility to give a short pitch about their PhD research, have discussions with the MMSys’22 mentors and wider community, and have a 1 on 1 in-person talk with their assigned mentor. The postdoc mentoring was organized by Pablo Cesar and Irena Orsolic. Postdocs in the MMSys community were invited to give a lightning talk about their research and were invited to a dedicated networking lunch with other members of the MMSys community. 
IMX’ 22 on the other hand, featured an open application process for program committee membership and an active reasonable adjustment policy to ensure that registration fees are not preventing people from attending the conference. In addition, undergraduate and graduate students, as well as early-career researchers could also apply for travel support from the SIGCHI Gary Marsden travel awards and PhD students could benefit from interaction with and feedback from peers and senior researchers in the Doctoral Consortium. Finally, both for MMSys and IMX, participants had to actively agree with the ACM Policy Against Discrimination and Harassment.

Activities at the conference

At the conference, additional activities were organized to raise awareness, increase understanding, foster experience sharing and especially also trigger reflection about diversity and inclusion. MMSys ’22 featured a panel on  “Designing Inclusivity in Technologies“. Inclusive Design is an approach used in many sectors to try and allow everyone to experience our services and products in an equitable way. One of the ways we could do this is by celebrating diversity in how we design and take into account the different barriers faced by different communities across the globe. The panel brought together experts to discuss what inclusive design looks like for them, the charms of the communities they work with, the challenges they face in designing with and for them and how other communities can learn from the methods they have used in order to build a more inclusive world that benefits all of us. 
The panellists were:

  • Veronica Orvalho: Professor at Porto University’s Instituto de Telecomunicações and the Founder/CEO of Didimo – a platform that enables users to generate digital humans.
  • Nitesh Goyal: Leads research on Responsible AI tools at Google Research.
  • Kellie Morrissey: Researcher & Lecturer at the University of Limerick’s School of Design.

IMX ’22 featured a panel discussion on “Diversity in the Metaverse”. The Metaverse is a hot topic, which has many people wondering both what it is, and more importantly, what it will look like in the future for immersive media experiences. As a unique space for social interaction, engagement and connection, it’s essential that we address the importance of representation and accessibility during its time of infancy. The discussion intended not only to cover the current scenario in virtual and augmented reality worlds, but also the consequences and challenges of building a diverse Metaverse by taking into account design, content, marketing, and the various barriers faced by different communities across the globe.

The panel was moderated by  Tara Collingwoode-Williams  (Goldsmiths University) and had four panellists to discuss topics related to research and practice around “Diversity and Inclusive design in the Metaverse”:

  • Nina Salomons – (Filmmaker, diversity advocate and XR consultant, XRDI, AnomieXR co-founder UK – London)
  • Micaela Mantegna – (TED Fellow. Video Games Policy/Artificial intelligence, creativity & copyright Professor. AI, XR and Metaverse researcher. BKC Harvard Affiliate. Diversity & Inclusion advocate. Founder of Women In Games, Argentina – Greater Buenos Aires) 
  • Krystal Cooper -( Unity : Emerging Products – Professional Artistry / Virtual production * Spatial Computing * XR researcher * , USA – LA)
  • Mmuso Mafisa – (XR consultant, Veza Interactive and Venture Chain Capital, SA – Johannesburg Metropolitan Area)

Short testimonials by two of the EDI grant beneficiaries

Soonbin Lee is a PhD student at Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) in Korea, who would not have been able to attend MMsys ’22 without the SIGMM support (due to a lack of other funding opportunities). Soonbin wrote a short testimonial.

“The conference consisted of the presentation of a keynote and regular sessions by various speakers. In particular, with the advent of cloud gaming, there are many presentations, including: streaming systems specialized in game videos; haptic media for realistic viewing; and humanoid robots that can empathize with humans. During the conference, I enjoyed the spectacular views of Ireland and the wonderful traditional cuisine that was included in the conference program. Along with the presentations during the regular sessions, demo sessions were also presented. Participants from the industry, including Qualcomm, Fraunhofer FOKUS, INRIA, and TNO, were engaged during the MMSys demo sessions. Being able to participate offered also an excellent opportunity to witness the outcomes of real-time systems, including user-interactive VR games, holographic cube matching instructions, and a mobile-based deep learning video codec decoding demo. I was also able to hear the presentations of various PhD research proposals, and it was very impressive to see many PhD students present their interesting research.

At the MMSys conference, there were also a number of social events, like Viking boat and beer-brewing in Ireland, so I was able to meet with other researchers and get to know them better. This was an amazing experience for me because it is not easy to meet the researchers in person. On the last day, I gave a presentation at the NOSSDAV session on the compression processing of MPEG Immersive Video (MIV). Through this discussion and the Q&A, I was able to learn more about the most recent trends in research. 
More importantly, I made many friends who studied with the same interests. I had a fantastic chance and a wonderful experience meeting other scholars in person. The MMSys Conference was a really impressive conference for me. With the travel grant, I fully enjoyed this opportunity!”

Postdoctoral researcher Alan Guedes also wrote a short reflection:
“I am a researcher from the Brazilian multimedia community, especially concentrated at the WebMedia event (http://webmedia.org.br). Although my community is considerably large and active, it has little presence at ACM events. This lack prevents the visibility of our research and possible international collaboration. In 2022, I was honoured with ACM Diversity and Inclusion Travel Award to attend two ACM SIGMM-supported conferences, namely IMX and MMSys. The events had inspiring presentations and keynotes, which made me energetic about new research directions. Particularly, I had the chance to meet researchers that I only know by their citing names. At these events, I could present some research done in Brazil and collaborate on technical committees and workshops. 

This networking was invaluable and will be essential in my research career. I was also happy to see other Brazilians that, like me, seek to engage and strengthen the bonds of SIGMM and Brazilian communities.”

Final reflections 

Both at IMX and MMSys, there were various actions and initiatives to put EDI-related topics on the agenda and to foster diversity and inclusion, both at the community level and in terms of research-related activities. We believe that a key success factor in this respect is the fact that there are valuable support mechanisms offered by the ACM and SIGMM, allowing the IMX and MMSys communities to continuously and systematically have goals related to equality, diversity and inclusion on the agenda, e.g., by removing participation barriers (e.g., by having adjusted prices depending on the country of the attendees), triggering awareness, providing a forum for under-represented voices and/or regions (e.g., focused workshops at IMX focusing on Asia (2016, 2017), Latin America (2020), .., supported by the SIGCHI Development Fund).

Based on our experiences, it is also important that defined actions and measures are based on a good understanding of the key problems. This means that efforts to gain insights into key aspects (e.g., gender balance, numbers on the participation of under-represented groups, …) and developments  over time  are highly valuable. Secondly, it is important that EDI aspects are considered holistically, as they relate to all aspects of the conference, from the beginning until the end, including e.g., the selection of keynote speakers, the matter of who is represented in the technical committees (e.g., have an open call for associate chairs as has been done at IMX since the beginning), or who is represented in the organizing committee, which efforts are done to reach out to relevant communities in various parts of the world that are currently under-represented (e.g., South-America, Afrika,…). Lastly, we need more experience sharing through both formal and informal channels. There is a huge potential to share best practices and experiences both within and between the related conferences and communities to combine our efforts towards a common EDI vision and associated goals. 


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