W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > public-egov-ig@w3.org > June 2010

Re: Organization ontology

From: Dave Reynolds <dave.e.reynolds@googlemail.com>
Date: Thu, 03 Jun 2010 16:04:27 +0100
To: William Waites <ww-keyword-okfn.193365@styx.org>
Cc: Linked Data community <public-lod@w3.org>, public-egov-ig@w3.org
Message-ID: <1275577467.15909.85.camel@dave-desktop>
On Thu, 2010-06-03 at 14:07 +0100, William Waites wrote:
> On 10-06-03 09:01, Dan Brickley wrote:
> > 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...
> >   
> I must admit when I looked at the org vocabulary I had a feeling
> that there were some assumptions buried in it but discarded a
> couple of draft emails trying to articulate it.
> I think it stems from org:FormalOrganization being a thing that is
> "legally recognized" and org:OrganizationalUnit (btw, any
> particular reason for using the North American spelling here?)
> being an entity that is not recognised outside of the FormalOrg

org:Organization is useful directly, the two subClasses do not form a
covering they do not exhaust the space. They are just useful
distinctions in a broad variety of applications - as indicated by their
presence in a number of the ontologies we surveyed [2]. 

On spelling, to quote from the public design notes [1]:

"""Let's get this one out of the way - are we organized or organised?
American English demands -ize but both are correct in British English;
-ize is preferred by the OED (the "Oxford spelling"); -ise is preferred
by Fowler, The Times and is 50% more common in the British National
Corpus. If we want to strive for broad uptake then picking one which is
acceptable for all versions of English is the obvious choice so we'll go
for -ize. After all, being on the same side as the OED can't be all

> Organisations can become recognised in some circumstances
> despite never having solicited outside recognition from a state --
> this might happen in a court proceeding after some collective
> wrongdoing. Conversely you might have something that can
> behave like a kind of organisation, e.g. a "class" in a class-action
> lawsuit without the internal structure present it most organisations.

The ontology doesn't talk about having "solicited" recognition so I
don't think that distinction is relevant here.

It is up to you, in applying this simple core ontology whether the
distinction between general org:Organization and org:FormalOrganization
is useful to your application. The nature of the formality is left
fairly open but if it is too constraining then model at org:Organization

> Is a state an Organisation?

Yes, whether it is one that you would usefully model using this is a
different question.

> Organisational units can often be semi-autonomous (e.g. legally
> recognised) subsidiaries of a parent or holding company. What
> about quangos or crown-corporations (e.g. corporations owned
> by the state). They have legal recognition but are really like
> subsidiaries or units.

Certainly, there is no requirement that FormalOrganzations can't have
other FormalOrganizations as subOrganizations. The containment hierarchy
is very open specifically to allow just that sort of structure.

> Some types of legally recognised organisations don't have a
> distinct legal personality, e.g. a partnership or unincorporated
> association so they cannot be said to have rights and responsibilities,
> rather the members have joint (or joint and several) rights and
> responsibilities. This may seem like splitting hairs but from a
> legal perspective its an important distinction at least in some
> legal environments. The description provided in the vocabulary
> is really only true for corporations or limited companies.

[Aside: I believe that in the UK Partnerships do have some legal
recognition, just as Sole Traders do. Partners also have joint and
several responsibilities but the Partnership itself is a recognized
entity for some purposes. ]

It would be great if you could suggest a better phrasing of the
description of a FormalOrganization that would better encompass the
range of entities you think should go there? Or are you advocating that
the distinction between a generic organization and a externally
recognized semi-autonomous organization is not a useful one?

> I think the example, eg:contract1 is misleading since this is
> an inappropriate way to model a contract. A contract has two
> or more parties. A contract might include a duty to fill a role
> on the part of one party but it is not normally something that
> has to do with "membership"

You are reading way too much into the choice of spelling of a URI! The
example is simply to illustrate how the vocabulary should be used to
bind a person to an organization in some form of role. I could have used
a bNode there. There is nothing in there to model Contracts with a big-C
- that would be a whole other ball game! I'll change the name to avoid
such confusion.

> Membership usually has a particular meaning as applied to
> cooperatives and not-for-profits. They usually wring their hands
> extensively about what exactly membership means. This concept
> normally doesn't apply to other types of organisations and does
> not normally have much to do with the concept of a role. 

Again don't over read into the name. All we are doing is providing a
trinary relationship between people, organizations and roles. How a
particular application of the ontology wants to further model roles is
up to it. Given that we had to pick a name for the relationship then
"membership" seemed reasonable, any alternative ("affiliate", "belongs
to" etc) is likely to suffer from the same problem that there are
English language or legal connotations for it that would trip people up.
The most neutral alternative I came up with was "RoleInstance" but that
is (a) off-puttingly technical and (b) confusing since it's an owl:Class
and not the same as an instance of org:Role.

At a minimum I'll add some discussion in that part of the document to
clarify the breadth of relations that org:Membership and org:memberOf
are intended to encompass.

I'm also open to suggestions if there is a compelling alternative name,
though we only have a small window in which to make further changes
before we have "legacy data" worry about :)

> The
> president of ${big_corporation} cannot be said to have any kind
> of membership relationship to that corporation, for example.

He plays a role that we might call "president" in that organization and
that could very happily be represented by an instance of the
org:Membership class. 

If the name of the Class is a barrier then it would be easy for you, in
specializing the ontology, to create a new Class for the relationship
which better suits the terminology of your application and make that a
sub-class or equivalent-class of org:Membership. 


[2] http://www.epimorphics.com/web/wiki/organization-ontology-survey
Received on Thursday, 3 June 2010 15:05:09 UTC

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