TRACE project, Brussels, 2007-11-19

Monday 19th November: I was invited as an expert to the final meeting of the TRACE project, held in Brussels. TRACE stands for Transparent Competences in Europe. The project web site is meant to be at http://trace.education-observatories.net/ . I didn’t realise how many competence projects there were in Europe at the moment, as well as TEN Competence which some CETIS people are involved with.

The meeting consisted of some presentations of the project work, followed by a general discussion which particularly involved the invited experts.

TRACE has created a prototype system to illustrate the competence transparency concept. In essence, this does employment matching based on inferences using domain knowledge embedded in an ontology, as well as job offers on the one side, and and CV-based personal competence profiles on the other. They didn’t try to do the full two-way matching thing as the Dutch Centre for Work and Income do. On the surface, the TRACE matching looks like a simpler version of what is done by the Belgian company Actonomy.

The meeting seemed to recognise that factors other than competences are also important in employment matching, but this has not been explored in the context of the TRACE project; nor has the idea that a system which can be used for competence-based matching in the employment domain could easily and advantageously be used for several other applications. It would be good to get a wider framework together, and this might go some way towards countering social exclusion worries.

Karsten Lundqvist, working at Reading with the project leader Prof. Keith Baker, was mainly responsible for the detailed ontology work, and he recognises that the relationships chosen to represent in the top-level ontology are vitally essential to what the ontology can support, and what domain ontologies can represent. They have a small number of relationships in their ontology:

  • has part
  • part of
  • more specific
  • more general
  • synonym
  • antonym

While these are reasonable first guesses at useful relationships, some of my previous work (presented at a TEN Competence meeting) proposes slightly different ones. I made the point in this meeting that it would be a good idea to check the relevance, appropriateness and meaningfulness of chosen relationships with people engaged in the domain itself. I’d say it is important in this kind of system to gain the trust of the end users by itself being transparently understandable.

But further than this, comprehensible relationships as well as terms are vital to the end of getting communities to take responsibility for ontologies. People in the community must be able to discuss the ontology. And, if the ontology is worked in to a structure to support communications, by being the basis of tags, people that work in the field will have plenty of motivation to understand the ontology. Put the motivation to understand together with structures and concepts that are easily understandable, and there is nothing in the way of widespread use of ontologies by communities, for a variety of purposes.

Putting together the main points that occurred to me, most of which I was able to say at the meeting:

  • relationships chosen for a top-level ontology for competence are vitally central, providing the building blocks for domain ontologies where the common knowledge of a community is represented;
  • we need further exploration about which relationships are most suitable and comprehensible for the community;
  • this will enable community development and maintenance of their own ontologies;
  • the UK already has some consensus-building communities, in the Sector Skills Councils;
  • SSCs produce National Occupational Standards, and it is worthwhile studying what is already produced and how, rather than reinventing the complete set of wheels (see my work for ioNW2);
  • to get practical success, we should acknowledge the human tendency for everyone to produce their own knowledge structures, including domain ontologies;
  • but we need to help people interrelate different domain ontologies, by providing in particular relationships suited to cross-link nodes in different ontologies (see my previous work on this)

All in all, an interesting and stimulating meeting.

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