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What are the responsibilities of a conference's program chair versus its general chair? Computer science conferences like STOC and FOCS list separate program and general chairs.

A guess would be that the program chair is in charge of the technical content (which papers are accepted, etc.) whereas the general chair is in charge of administrative aspects. However, some conferences, like FOCS, list a third group of local arrangements chairs who sound like they are in charge of the administrative side of the conference. Others only have one group of undifferentiated "chairs".

What do each of these jobs entail? Are they considered "equal" in terms of service to the community?

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Conferences in theoretical computer science like the ones you mention typically don't have general chairs. They have a local arrangements team for organizing the event, and program chairs to manage the review process.

Many conferences in CS outside theory have a general chair because they have many more activities. The general chair might be in charge of selecting

  • The workshop program chair
  • The posters chair
  • The tutorials chair
  • Publicity (and social media) chairs
  • Treasurer
  • Local arrangements

And so on. The general chair can be viewed as being in charge of everything except the technical program and then delegates.

But this may vary even within iterations of an individual conference.

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The answer varies with the size and scope of the conference. You might have many more "chair" roles, such as e.g., AAMAS, or IJCAI. All depends on the activities the conference runs. In the simple settings when the conference is relatively small, local organizers and program chairs might be just enough. All to do is to organize the venue, catering, registration, finances, etc. (local chairs) and then the technical program (program chairs & program committee).

Normally, program chairs are responsible for selecting, approaching and managing the program committee, deal with the basic publicity (calls for papers and participation - that can also go to local chairs, or even publicity chairs) and then, most importantly run the whole submission, peer-review and proceedings publishing process, normally except for the printing part. Similar would hold for all the other "lower-level" chairs, such as tutorial, workshop, etc. chairs.

Now if the conference runs many activities, you need to manage the whole process and there you go with your general chairs. But again, all would depend on the conference type, size, activities it runs and the traditions in the community.

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