A Better Ontology: Ontology design through domain specialization

In his article, Kuhn states that ontology design is performed by knowledge engineers that are not specialized in the domains they are designing ontologies for (Kuhn, 619; emphasis added).  Furthermore, he states that ontology design is carried out in consultation with domain experts through informal interviews, as well as incorporation of documents detailing the ontology requirements and existing databases on the subject of the domain(619).

I feel that these knowledge engineers would be able to create a more in depth and meaningful ontology if they were to actually undertake the grueling and likely expensive task of specializing in the domain that they with to create an new ontology for.  Borrowing from the field of Anthropology, you could think of this concept as a type of Ontological Fieldwork.  The premise of fieldwork is to be able to learn the subtle nuances of a culture, or in this case – a domain, through integration and participation in the life and events of a particular culture, or in our example, domain.  I view this current generation of Knowledge engineers as the equivalent of Armchair Anthropologists, those is in the pre-Boasian era of anthropology would study, and subsequently define, a culture based on explorer, missionary or colonial reports.  This of course lead to a the prevalence of ideas about cultures that were sometimes very far from reality.

In order for the effective and meaningful ontology design, I propose the following five steps to be undertaken by Knowledge Engineers before attempting to define a new ontology for a domain, over a period of at least a year.

  1. Designers should identify and chose a mentor from one of the established researchers in the designers domain of interest.
  2. Designers should study their mentor’s work, and subsequently explore the work of other established and up-and-coming researchers in the domain of interest.
  3. Designers should attend or organize conferences or round tables designed to bring to light a collective picture of what the particularities of the domain of interest.
  4. Designers should synthesize their findings and prepare a report, or ethnography, of the domain of interest.
  5. Designers should commence work on designing an ontology to represent the domain of interest, taking into consideration nuances of the domain and other findings discovered during domain fieldwork.

In conclusion, I feel that ontology design would benefit from an added level of familiarity with the domain of interest. This would aid in illuminating meaningful nuances that may otherwise be overlooked when researching a domain using conventional, non-committal methods.

- rsmithlal

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