Links - Ontologies and Organizations

The general definition of ontology at Wikipedia ( versus the computer science definition given in the main link ) is "a study of conceptions of reality and the nature of being". In some ways, the general definition is more appropriate to modeling organizations - the target audience for an organizational ontology is people, not computers.

The shortest and most intuitive definition of term ontology is 'a description of things that be'. For most purposes, it may be the best definition.

A very good and complete discussion of organizational ontologies is Preliminaries to a DOLCE Ontology of Organizations by Bottazzi and Ferrario at Laboratory for Applied Ontology ( University of Torino ). The following is an extended quote from the their paper ( slightly reformatted ). The justification for the length of this quote is that it states some central issues in the design of organizational ontologies and is pretty much incapable of improvement.

Many kinds of analysis can be and have been conducted on organizations, so it is important to understand what an ontological analysis is and how it can be distinguished from other kinds of analysis.

A first distinction that can be traced is relative to the focus of the analysis that can be either on dynamic or on static aspects of organizations. Among analyses of the dynamics of organizations we can further distinguish what can be called “genealogical analyses” from “analyses of the actions”.

Generally speaking, genealogical analyses have the purpose of answering to questions like:

  • How are organizations born?
  • What happens when an organization is born?
  • What is necessary in order for an organization to be born?
  • What kind of relation does it entartain with its founders?

These questions, although very important, are not adressed by the ontological analysis we want to pursue in the paper.

On the other hand, important questions for an analysis of actions are:

  • How are collective actions performed?
  • Which relations do they entertain with actions of the individuals who participate to the collective one?
  • Can organizations be considered agents of some kind? And, if this is the case,
  • how can they act in the world?
  • Are they responsible for their actions?
  • What can or cannot they do?

All these questions are in a way peripheral to the ontological analysis, but some of the answers can be indirectly inferred by the study of the central ontological questions.

These questions and the distinctions made by the authors should be used as guidelines for modeling any organization, particularly the distinction between what an organization is ( 'things that be' ) and the policies, processes and workflows that describe how it works.




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