Report of General Chair for ACL'2004
Donia Scott

Being a member of a conference organising committee invariably ends up
being much more work than one anticipates when one agrees to serve.  I
have been moved by the generosity of so many members of our community
-- from the members of the ACL exec, to other senior colleagues in our
field, to the wide pool of reviewers and to the student body -- who
gave up so much of their valuable time to the service of the ACL
conference. The success of ACL'04 will be due entirely to them.

The structure of ACL'04 will be much the same as previous years; we
haven't found it necessary to introduce any innovations. There was a
strong feeling from several chairs that ACL should strive to increase
its acceptance rate, thereby allowing more participation from our
membership. Suggestions for achieving this included adding a session
on "hot-off-the-press" papers describing new and ground-breaking
work. After much debate, it was acknowledged that ACL'03 actually
achieved this through the introduction of "interactive posters" as
part of the Demo Session, and so we decided to adopt that model for

ACL conferences are in fact much more inclusive than is suggested
every year when we announce our acceptance rate; in the past we have
reported only the results for the main session, thus ignoring all the
activities that take place in the workshops, demos, posters, student
session and the like. The statistics for this year show that ACL'04
received a total of 619 submissions to the technical sessions and
workshops, of which roughly half were for the main session. The
overall acceptance rate for the conference is 36%; the acceptance rate
for the main session is 25%. We have thus achieved the desired target
of both (a) a highly-selective main session, with papers of a quality
that one could argue is equivalent to that of a journal article, and
(b) an inclusive conference.

1. Selection of Chairs

I was invited by the ACL Exec to be General Chair on mid Oct 2002 (21
months before conference).

The PC co-chairs were invited by the ACL'04 working group, in
consultation with me, in early November 2002 (20 months before the

I invited the other chairs in early February 2003 (17 months before

The Sponsorship Chair was selected much later: end November 2003. This
was because (a) the first 4 people I approached turned declined the
invitation and (b) the ACL exec was still deliberating whether to
continue the tradition of a volunteer sponsorship chair or (as agreed
at the Exec Meeting in July 2003) to engage someone on a professional
basis. Finally, the Exec decided to ask Debbie Dahl to carry out this
role on a volunteer basis, with the possibility of later establishing
with her a more professional relationship. Luckily for us, she agreed.
The Exec needs to take a clear decision on this issue for future

The organisation of the Student Research Workshop was set up in
October 2003. Following the request of last year's SRW, there were 3
co- chairs, one from each geographical region. Because ACL'04 is joint
with EACL, we asked EACL to nominate one of its student board to be
co-chair; the other two were selected by me from nominations from the
co-chairs of the 2003 SRW.

2. Site visit

Priscilla and I went on a site visit to Barcelona in mid-February
2004. This was a critical event, first because we were able to allay
our fears about the conference venue, which was still under
construction. Our meetings with the local organising committee, with
the Forum Officials and with the company handling accommodation, were
extremely valuable for me in planning the activities leading up the
conference, and in scheduling my time for coordinating them. I
produced a very detailed report on the site visit, which was sent at
the end of February to the ACL'04 working group, the Exec and all
chairs. In this they were alerted to any non-standard requirements or
procedures that they needed to know to make their own schedules.

3. Planning issues

I was extremely fortunate to have a simply splendid team of
Chairs. They have all been strongly committed, highly organised and
very proactive. I haven't had to chase any of them for anything!

Walter and Lyn did an excellent job chairing the Programme Committee;
this was especially the case given that for some eight months leading
up to the PC meeting, Lyn was under medical instruction not to type.

In particular, the local organising committee were just superb. Based
on what I knew of ACL conference organisation from my many years on
the exec, I had expected coordination with the local activities to be
something of a nightmare, but this was in fact the smoothest and most
pleasant part of the process for me.

The Conference Handbook was enormously useful, helping me and the
various other chairs to plan ahead and keep to schedule. The archive
of policy documents was also very useful: it allowed us to avoid
having to consult the Exec too often.

4. Hurdles and stumbling blocks

The conference organisation has run remarkably smoothly. The most
time-consuming part of the process was in the month between the middle
of May (PC decisions on the papers to be accepted) to the middle of
June (late registration deadline), when I had to deal with an average
of 10 emails per day on the conference -- on a few occasions up to
as many as 50.

The main hurdles or stumbling blocks encountered -- in no particular
order -- were:

   The late appearance of the registration form. This led to something
of a panic in getting the form tested, launched and announced in
reasonable time before the early-registration deadline, and resulted
in many emails from anxious prospective attendees.

   The late ratification of the conference budget and registration

   The late appearance of the accommodation form and information on
hotels. This was due to the fact that our designated contact at
Tilesa, the OPC we engaged to handle the accommodation and catering,
left on maternity leave and the company allowed the ball to drop.

   The lack of an explicit procedure for informing the Publication
Chair on the number of proceedings to print. This put undue pressure
on the Publication Chair at what was a fairly crucial time for him.

   The gaps in availability of the ACL office at a time when their
support was critical to the organisation of ACL'04. One such occasion
coincided with the time of NAACL, which begs the question of how much
support the ACL office should be expected to provide to the chapter
conference over ACL.

   The delay in announcing the scheme for Student Volunteers.

   The apparent surprise of some members of the organisation team to
know, close to the start of the conference, that their expenses and
registration would not automatically be covered by ACL. They were
informed of this at the time they were invited to serve on the
committee, but probably not in a very formal or explicit way, and many
had forgotten this in the intervening period. The same probably
applies to area chairs.

   More generally, communication has been something a problem, with
the same information often having to be repeatedly sent out. I had
expected the Newsletter to help us avoid this problem, and maybe it
did reduce it, but the level of this kind of activity was surprisingly
high. I think this is probably part of a wider problem of us all
receiving too many emails every day to be able to read and digest
properly the important ones; there is probably nothing we can do about
this as an organisation. However, it may also partly result from a
perceived dilution in the importance of email announcements from
Priscilla, given that we now receive so many of them for a variety of
non-ACL activities.

5. Suggestions for information to be added to Conference Handbook

   Schedule for agreeing budget and determining fees.

   Schedule for launching on-line registration.

   Schedule and procedure for Call for Student Volunteers

   Schedule for making programme publicly available.

   Sample pages for acknowledging sponsors.

   Schedule for Newsletters?

   Site visit report as sample on website?

Donia Scott, 30th June 2004