The Wicked Problem of Conference Formats: Considerations for the Future of Hybrid VIS Conference Experiences

Conferences have long been the lifeblood of academia especially in computer science and related fields, providing a platform for researchers, professionals, and enthusiasts to share knowledge, network, and foster collaboration.

Conferences in computer science and HCI have evolved from localized, discipline-centric events to global, diverse platforms fostering interdisciplinary collaboration, ethical considerations, and rapid technological dissemination. They serve as key drivers of innovation and knowledge exchange in these dynamic and rapidly evolving fields.

However, as the landscape of the academic world evolves, so does the challenge of determining the best format for conferences. The VIS Executive Committee (VEC) is currently investigating the complexities of planning future VIS conferences, focusing on the extent to which the conference should assume a hybrid format, offering positive experiences for both in-person and remote attendees.

Wicked problems, a term coined by design theorists Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber in 1973, refer to complex, interconnected issues that lack clear solutions [1]. The decision-making process surrounding conference formats epitomizes this concept, as it involves several interconnected factors and stakeholders with various backgrounds, expectations and objectives, and uncertainties.

The conventional format of conference where attendees from around the world convene in person at a single location has been the standard for decades, fostering face-to-face interactions, serendipitous networking, and a palpable sense of community. The relatively recent advent of low-latency multimodal communication technologies has paved the way for hybrid conferences, allowing remote attendees to experience the conference at the same time as those attending the event in person.

Conventional, in-person conferences offer a unique and immersive experience. However, they certainly have drawbacks [2], including, but not limited to, the travel visa restrictions, the environmental impact of travel, venue accessibility barriers, and the risk of spreading communicable diseases.

A hybrid conference format for VIS has the potential to broaden participation and grow our community, reduce our environmental impact, and accommodate the diverse needs of attendees. On the flip side, creating an engaging virtual experience remains challenging despite advances in communication technology; a hybrid format may never foster the energy of a conventional in-person gathering. Moreover, a functional hybrid conference imposes additional burdens on organizers, with added logistical complexities and their associated costs and manpower. As we navigate the wicked problem of conference formats, acknowledging the complexity and interconnectedness of the factors is crucial. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, striking a balance between the benefits of in-person engagement and the inclusivity of virtual participation might hold the key.

In response to the evolving landscape of conference experiences, the VEC is in the process of envisioning the future of the VIS conference, particularly as we receive bids for VIS in the latter half of this decade. As part of this initiative, we, in collaboration with members of the IEEE Visualization and Computer Graphics Technical Community Executive Committee (VGTC ExCom) are soliciting opinions and ideas from the VGTC conference communities (which includes VIS) by means of a survey. This brief 10 minute survey aims to take the pulse of the community, which we will use to understand conference attendance patterns and preferences, to determine the sentiment toward potential hybrid experiences, and to collect ideas. Once data is collected, we will summarize our findings in a future blog post in this series.

In addition to surveying the community and speaking to those who contributed to discussions of conference formats at the most recent VIS Town Hall in Melbourne, we have also been analyzing the past several years of VIS conference attendance data, which we will summarize in the next blog post in this series. Finally, we will use our findings to update the instructions for submitting bids to host future VIS conferences.

Do you have your own vision for the format of the VIS conference that you would like to share? Get in touch with us directly at or . In the meantime, please take to our survey here:


  1. Rittel, Horst WJ, and Melvin M. Webber. “Dilemmas in a general theory of planning.” Policy sciences 4, no. 2 (1973): 155-169.

  2. Lee-Robbins, E., & McNutt, A. (2023). Only YOU Can Make IEEE VIS Environmentally Sustainable. Proceedings of altVIS 2023.