ACM’s Special Interest Groups (SIGs) cover 36 areas of computing, from graphics to computer-human interfaces, theory to computer architecture, programming languages to bioinformatics, and much more. In fact, SIGs form the locus of ACM’s technical activities and provide a way for individual disciplines to organize their interests. Each SIG holds an annual business meeting, where members learn more about the group’s activities, propose new activities, and comment about SIG and ACM policies.
The SIG Governing Board (SGB), made up of representatives from all ACM SIGs, serves as the venue in which these ideas, concerns, and proposals can be shared across disciplines. The major role of the board is to strengthen and facilitate communication between SIGs and to work as one unit to build strategies and create opportunities for ACM’s SIGs to thrive. The SGB is also charged with ensuring all SIGs are run well, forming new SIGs, discussing and implementing changes to broad policies, and providing technical advice and grass-roots input from the broad set of communities to ACM as a whole.
The board meets twice a year and a major component of these gatherings is to discuss best practices among SIGs. These discussions in turn allow for key community ideas to be circulated and adopted by a broad set of SIGs or ACM as a whole. For example, there has been much debate in recent years about ACM’s publishing model. Comments from SIG members about Open Access have been widely discussed in SGB meetings and elsewhere in ACM, and have helped shape ACM’s new Fair Access policy, which is described by ACM’s Publications Board chairs Ronald Boisvert and Jack Davidson in the February 2013 issue of Communications (p. 5; http://bit.ly/12clIRS).
New SIGs arise regularly as new disciplines and groupings emerge. SIGBio (bioinformatics) and SIGHPC (High Performance Computing) are examples of two new additions to the SIG roster. Alas some SIGs lose relevance, become outdated, entwined with other disciplines, or just dissolve. It’s all part of the SIG evolution.
SIGs serve as a community forum. A common thread running through all ACM SIGs is conferences. SIGs host and/or sponsor conferences within their disciplines throughout the year. These conferences are offered at member discounts and provide organizational continuity. SIGs also provide financial support when conferences incur a deficit. "Conference sponsorship" is often confusing. Companies and other organizations frequently donate funds to help defray conference costs—this sponsorship is purely voluntary, ad hoc, and changes yearly. ACM SIGs, however, provide legal sponsorship, for example, guaranteeing conference liabilities and ownership of the conference name, which requires formal legal agreement to change. Hence, SIG-sponsored conferences tend to be stable over long periods of time.
SIGs serve as a focal point: bringing together top research as well as changing activities to remain relevant and reflective of community needs.
Member benefits may vary by SIG, however, most SIGs support a number of other activities including newsletters, journals, blogs, wikis, awards recognizing excellence, and travel grants—especially for students and others who may face special hardship.
With all of their activities and shaping of policy, SIGs serve as a focal point: bringing together top research as well as changing activities to remain relevant and reflective of community needs. I encourage everyone to become a SIG member and to consider SIG volunteer roles—helping with conferences, newsletters, registration, or whatever may be appropriate for SIGs of interest to you. Such participation helps ensure your voice is heard and helps create better offerings for the community.