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Ontology-based Knowledge Access for the higher education and research sector

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - OKHAERS (Ontology-based Knowledge Access for the higher education and research sector)

Reporting period: 2017-09-29 to 2018-09-28

SIRIS Academic S.L. is a consultancy company specialized in higher education, innovation and research (HER&I ). Amongst its customers are higher education and research Institutions, public policy-makers (e.g. ministries or regional governments) and private and public actors of innovation (e.g. associations, foundations, etc.). SIRIS’s strategy consultancy services are based on implicit expertise and a combination of qualitative and quantitative analysis.
In this context, the company faces some issues to scale-up its offered solutions. In particular, SIRIS wanted to improve the management and use of the knowledge accumulated on the basis of its rich experience working on the domain, in order to boost and expand the consultancy forces.
The general issue addressed is very widespread: how to enable an organisation to accumulate qualitative knowledge and share it widely within its members.
OKHAERS is an innovation project aiming at addressing this issue by applying Semantic Web and Ontology-based Data Access (OBDA) technologies. The project proposes to extend UNiCS, the existing ontology-based platform developed by SIRIS, in order to:
- Organize the company knowledge
- Support the cumulative growing of company’s expertise in term strategy and policy definition.
- Facilitate the accessing and retrieving of this knowledge
The project has been development through several phases:

The first phase of the project has been focused on:
getting a general understanding on the company activities and methodology
performing a diagnosis on the knowledge management at SIRIS
getting some general recommendations to capture, manage and deliver the contents (internal and external documents) within the company
setting up a solution proposal and the correspondent execution plan.

Phase 2
During this phase, the focus has been made on the development of an ontology-based tool to support strategies and policies definition on research, higher education and innovation. The following activities have been done:

1) Setting up a new architecture for the UNiCS ontology to resolve some identified modeling preconditions. The work done on UNiCS has encompassed two aspects: 1) a modular design of the ontology, 2) semantic alignments with several standards.
2) Writing two papers with the main contributions and discussions addresses during the aforementioned activity.
3) Conceptualisation of strategies and policies definition, through a collaboration of consultants and knowledge representation experts. The result of this task is a knowledge model that links institutional objectives and profiles with policy instruments.
4) Specification and implementation of the ontology – called CONSTRAINS - for two selected study cases: “Research strategies” and “Internationalisation” - again relying on the common work of users (consultants) and knowledge representation experts.

Phase 3
The final phase of the project has involved the development of a plan to scale-up the solution, both to extend the research and innovation strategies and policies coverage of the platform, and to adapt the approach to other use cases of policy making and monitoring.
The project has reached several results:
1) In the first phase of the project, the knowledge management analysis and diagnosis has empowered a reflection on content management and knowledge exploitation opportunities in the company.

2) In the second phase, the work done on the definition of the new UNiCS architecture has some relevant added values not just on the design of the developed system but also throughout the rest of the platform. Amongst other, the new architecture permits:
- Systematize the integration of new datasets.
- Bring a way to manage the grown of the ontology.
- Facilitate the maintenance of the knowledge base.
- Make the knowledge model more consistent and understandable.
- Ease the interoperability with other systems.
It’s important to stress that the UNiCS ontology is an open source solution. Therefore, the new features developed will also boost a better use of the tool outside the company. In addition and beyond setting a robust architecture for UNiCS, the work done in this phase provides a set of correspondences that permit to map concepts between well-known domain standards for data representation. This work has two main impacts: 1) To improve the UNiCS capacity to integrate and to interoperate with more datasets. 2) The correspondences are a valuable result by themselves (independently of the implementation of an OBDA platform) as these provide to the HER&I community a tool to translate information between different representation schemes and contexts.

3) In a third phase the work has been focused on the development of the CONSTRAINS ontology. It is a novel UNiCS module that stores and manages from general recommendations and good practises to specific initiatives and policies on higher education, research and innovation. The tool offers a systematic way to retrieve valuable insights about key aspects that influence the adoption of a strategy. For instances, users can ask question such as “What are the recommended instruments that a Research-intensive university can use to get Prestige?” or “What are the key indicators of performance affected by a given set of instruments?.
CONSTRAINS was also designed to provide a valuable solution beyond the considered use cases on Higher Education and Research. In fact, the conceptualisation has been developed on the basis of a flexible scheme, thus supporting different kinds of decision-making approaches and applications.

In addition, and beside the software functionalities, the modelling process of CONSTRAINS has configured a mean to reflect on the organisation of the knowledge and to systematise the methodology around strategy consultancy. The developed approach on modelling and formalising domain knowledge can configures a business product itself whose market is being explored by the company.