Governance of Conceptual Knowledge versus Policy/Reference Knowledge

What do knowledge governance systems look like in practice?

By knowledge governance, I don’t just mean governing ontologies. By knowledge, I mean categories/sets/types of things – what a thing “is,” or at least what it is described to be in the information system – and the relationships between these types, as opposed to specific recorded facts. 1

Some practitioners explicitly separate “conceptual knowledge” (ontologies) from “reference knowledge” (vocabularies, taxonomies, enumerated lists, etc.), where “reference” doesn’t necessarily reflect agreement – it could rather reflect chosen policy. 2 This is also referred to as a TBox/CBox split 3, where the traditional semantic-practitioner approach of a terminological “box” (TBox) for ontologies (i.e. defining terms) and assertional box (ABox) for assertions (i.e., recording data) is amended – a so-called categorical box (CBox) is spun out of the TBox that could be governed seperately.

The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order.
– Alfred North Whitehead

You may not call what you are doing “governance” because you think that if you do, you may get approached by some department representative who tells you, “we can take it from here.” That’s fine.

But how do you manage change with respect to the parts of your information systems that are not the specific recorded facts – i.e., the ontologies, schema, controlled vocabularies, taxonomies, enumerated lists, etc.? I’d love to know.

This post was adapted from a note sent to my email list on Scientific Data Unification.
I'd love for you to subscribe.

  1. W. Kent, Data and reality, 2nd ed. Bloomington, Ind: 1stBooks Library, 2000. ↩︎

  2. S. Martin, B. Szekely, and D. Allemang, The Rise of the Knowledge Graph. 2021. Accessed: Aug. 02, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://www.oreilly.com/library/view/the-rise-of/9781098100407/ ↩︎

  3. D. McComb, The data-centric revolution: restoring sanity to enterprise information systems. Basking Ridge, NJ: Technics Publications, 2019. ↩︎