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Re: Organization ontology

From: Dan Brickley <danbri@danbri.org>
Date: Thu, 3 Jun 2010 10:01:14 +0200
Message-ID: <AANLkTilAZ1ISCylaYd6nhAPhY4GdoJSEa7Y2YORSQViS@mail.gmail.com>
To: "Stuart A. Yeates" <syeates@gmail.com>
Cc: Dave Reynolds <dave.e.reynolds@googlemail.com>, Linked Data community <public-lod@w3.org>, public-egov-ig@w3.org
On Thu, Jun 3, 2010 at 8:47 AM, Stuart A. Yeates <syeates@gmail.com> wrote:
> On Wed, Jun 2, 2010 at 8:09 PM, Dave Reynolds
> <dave.e.reynolds@googlemail.com> wrote:
>> On Wed, 2010-06-02 at 17:06 +1200, Stuart A. Yeates wrote:
>>> On Tue, Jun 1, 2010 at 7:50 PM, Dave Reynolds
>>> <dave.e.reynolds@googlemail.com> wrote:
>>> > We would like to announce the availability of an ontology for description of
>>> > organizational structures including government organizations.
>>> >
>>> > This was motivated by the needs of the data.gov.uk project. After some
>>> > checking we were unable to find an existing ontology that precisely met our
>>> > needs and so developed this generic core, intended to be extensible to
>>> > particular domains of use.
>>> >
>>> > [1] http://www.epimorphics.com/public/vocabulary/org.html
>>>
>>> I think this is great, but I'm a little worried that a number of
>>> Western (and specifically Westminister) assumptions may have been
>>> built into it.
>>
>> Interesting. We tried to keep the ontology reasonably neutral, that's
>> why, for example, there is no notion of a Government or Corporation.
>>
>> Could you say a little more about the specific Western & Westminster
>> assumptions that you feel are built into it?
>
> (*) that structure is relatively static with sharp transitions between states.

This simplification pretty much comes 'out of the box' with the use of
RDF or other simple logics (SQL too). Nothing we do here deals in a
very fluid manner with an ever-changing, subtle and complex world. But
still SQL and increasingly RDF can be useful tools, and used carefully
I don't think they're instruments of western cultural imperialism.

I don't find anything particularly troublesome about the org: vocab on
this front. If you really want to critique culturally-loaded
ontologies, I'd go find one that declares class hierarchies with terms
like 'Terrorist' without giving any operational definitions...

> (*) that an organisation has a single structure rather than a set of
> structures depending on the operations you are concerned with
> (finance, governance, authority, criminal justice, ...)

Couldn't the subOrganizationOf construct be used to allow these
different aspects be described and then grouped loosly together?

> (*) that the structures are intended to be as they are, rather than
> being steps towards some kind of Platonic ideal

I'm not getting that from the docs. For example, "We felt that the
best approach was to develop a small, generic, reusable core ontology
for organizational information and then let developers extend and
specialize it to particular domains." ...suggests a hope for
incremental refinement / improvement, but also a hope that the basic
pieces are likely to map onto multiple parties situations at a higher
level. Bit of both there, but no Plato.

> ...
> Modelling the crime organisations (the mafia, drug runners, Enron,
> identity crime syndicates) may also be helpful in exposing
> assumptions, particularly those in mapping the real-world to legal
> entities.

I agree these are interesting areas to attempt to describe, but
dealing with situations where obfuscation, secrecy and complexity are
core business is a tough stress-test of any model. Ontology-style
modeling works best when there is a shared conceptualisation of what's
going on; even many direct participants in these complex crime
situations lack that. So I'd suggest for those situations taking a
more evidence-based social networks approach; instead of saying
"here's their org chart", build things up from raw data of who emails
who, who knows who, who met who, where and when (or who claimed that
they did), etc. RDF is ok for that task too. Those techniques are also
useful when understanding how more legitimate organizations really
function, but (as mentioned w.r.t. accountability) it can largely be
broken out as a separate descriptive problem.

> Alternatively, this may help in defining the subset of organisations
> that you're trying to model.

Yup

>> Control is a different issue from organizational structure. This
>> ontology is not designed to support reasoning about authority and
>> governance models. There are Enterprise Ontologies that explicitly model
>> authority, accountability and empowerment flows and it would be possible
>> to create a generic one which bolted alongside org but org is not such a
>> beast :)
>
> I suspect I may have mis-understood the subset of problems you're
> trying to solve. A statement such as the above in the ontology
> document might save others making the same mistake.

Perhaps the scope is organizations in which there is some ideal that
all participants can share a common explicit understanding of (the
basics of) how things work - who does roughly what, and what the main
aggregations of activity are.  Companies, clubs, societies, public
sector bodies etc. Sure there will be old-boy networks, secret
handshakes and all kinds of undocumented channels, but those are
understood as routing-around the main tranparent shared picture of how
the organization works (or should work). As you move beyond this, you
can talk more about 'groups' than organizations, and about networks of
social and economic activity, but the sense of aspiring to a common
shared structural picture fades away. As ever in these things there's
no black-and-white line, just a gradual drop-off in usefulness of the
model...

cheers,

Dan

> cheers
> stuart
>
>
Received on Thursday, 3 June 2010 08:07:04 GMT

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