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< Contents ERCIM News No. 54, July 2003

Leading-Edge Knowledge Management for Public Employees

by Simon Lambert

The English word ‘pellucid’ means ‘transparent or translucent; extremely clear in style and meaning’ (Collins English Dictionary). That describes the vision of the Pellucid project in aiming to create a software platform for knowledge management for public employees.

Public administrations carry out a huge variety of tasks in the life of their country, but despite this variety they often have certain things in common in their working practices. A frequent phenomenon is ‘organisational mobility’, in which employees move from one department or unit to another, taking some of their acquired knowledge with them, but at the same time needing to acquire more knowledge about the new working environment. This is what sets the experienced member of staff apart from the newly arrived one, and is a classic knowledge management problem.

The Pellucid project has chosen to use autonomous software agents as the basis for its customisable platform. This approach is extremely well suited to a complex problem such as knowledge management. Different classes of agents have distinct responsibilities in seeking and presenting timely and appropriate information to the user. The Role Agent is responsible for assessing the user’s need based on the context in the work process; the Task Agent and Information Search Agent are responsible for searching for information to satisfy that need; while the Personal Assistant Agent deals with presenting it in a personalised way to the user. A Capitalisation Agent has the job of building new knowledge from the organisational memory: for example, using data mining to detect patterns of usage of documents in processes.

The initial focus of the knowledge management offered by Pellucid is on document management, contact management and critical timing management. Knowledge in these areas can be key to effective and efficient working in many routine and non-routine tasks: for example, where to find documents that can be used as models for a new case; who to contact in external organisations, or internally someone who has done a similar task before; how long to expect certain interactions to take. The three pilot applications within the project, though very different in character, all exhibit these three needs for knowledge management. The pilot applications are:

  • Comune di Genova (Italy), Traffic and Mobility Directorate: planning and installation of traffic lights in the city
  • Mancomunidad de Municipios del Bajo Guadalquivir (an association of local governments in the south of Spain): management of projects and services
  • Consejería de la Presidencia, Junta de Andalucía (regional government in the south of Spain): management and resolution of problems with fixed telephony systems.

Underlying the operation of the Pellucid agents is a collection of ontologies, representing the structure and relationships of aspects of organisations and processes. These ontologies allow the agents to communicate together and to perform reasoning. A generic ontology plus sub-ontologies for documents and contacts have been developed. A key line of research for the remainder of the project will be the use of domain-specific ontologies and reasoning to allow retrieval and suggestions to the user based on domain-specific knowledge - for example, knowledge about similarities of traffic light installations based on their properties (type of road junction, traffic density, etc). The project aims to develop a generic, customisable platform, and the separation between generic and domain-specific parts will be of great importance.

Implementation is being conducted using the Java-based agent toolkit JADE. The possibility of using JESS (Java Expert Systems Shell) is being examined. Java Data Objects, an object-oriented interface to data storage, has been chosen as the basis of the organisational memory. Interfaces are being provided to workflow management systems that are compliant with the Workflow Management Coalition standards. In addition, the concept of a ‘workflow tracking system’ is being introduced, to allow a lightweight provision of context information to the Pellucid system in cases where a full workflow management system is not needed or desired.

The project is funded under the European Commission’s IST programme, and began in March 2002. There are eight partners from across Europe, including three local or regional government bodies as end-users, and two members of ERCIM: CCLRC and the Slovak Academy of Sciences Institute of Informatics (part of SRCIM). The project is currently (May 2003) preparing for the preliminary user evaluations at two of the pilot sites.

Please contact:
Simon Lambert, CCLRC
Tel: +44 1235 44 5716