My PhD dissertation

On Community-based Ontology Evolution: Foundations of Business Semantics Management

Download a copy of my dissertation here.

Examination committee:

  1. Prof. Dr. Robert Meersman (promotor)
  2. Prof. Dr. Viviane Jonckers (president)
  3. Prof. Dr. Bernard Manderick (secretary)
  4. Prof. Dr. Jean-Paul Van Bendegem
  5. Prof. Dr. Hans Weigand
  6. Prof. Dr. Martin Hepp
  7. Prof. Dr. Tom Mens

Graduated summa cum laude.


The second-generation Web (2.0) is a complex socio-technical system of unforeseen growth and dynamics. On-line communities emerge and interact all around a usually self-organising manner supported by interactive applications, including bookmarking, tagging, blogging, and wikis, being developed and shared at little or no cost. The emerging range of Semantic Web and other open technologies promises an increase in scale and maturity of knowledge sharing, achieved through collaboration and integration within and between diverse communities.

Considering the current pace of social and technological development, it seems that the transformation of the Web from a network of separately siloed applications and content repositories to a more seamless and semantically interoperable ecosystem is at hand, opening a wide range of scientific challenges and opportunities. However, while simple, the idea of the Semantic Web remains largely unrealised.

Semantic interoperability is the ability of two or more information systems or their (computerised) components to communicate data and to interpret the information in the data that has been communicated both in a meaningful manner, that is by means of an ontology that is shared by the involved information systems.

The ontologies that will furnish the Semantic Web are lacking, and those few that have been published are usually not based on consensus, and hence unreliable and not reusable beyond individual purposes. Of those domain vocabularies that are published on the Web, only some of them are actively maintained and thus reflect the current domain. Many others are rather outdated prototypes, not “usable and reusable”, and unworthily categorised ontologies as an agreement on the schema vocabulary is non-existing. Current techniques that claim to create semantic interoperability are unsatisfactory, both theoretically and as far as the quality of the results is concerned.

In current ontology engineering practices, the underlying methodological principles are mostly ignored. Furthermore, they systemically disregard the subtle gap that looms between knowledge sharing among people at the community/social level on the one hand; and information exchange between computer systems at the operational/technical level (see figure below).

The gap between knowledge sharing between human beings as an act of socialisation and information exchange between computer systems.

The gap between knowledge sharing between human beings as an act of socialisation and information exchange between computer systems.

Architecting community-driven internet systems will require a paradigm shift that goes beyond mere technological fits. In order to bridge the gap between the social and technical part of the community, one must put into practice the necessary activities to identify common needs from socialisation activities and bring the stakeholders together to find and ontological agreement to support these needs.

Community-based ontology evolution establishes the co-evolution of (A) social interactions enabled by the community’s design; (B) the information systems that support them; and (C) the semantic patterns to fulfil semantic interoperability between these systems.

In order to enact this co-evolution, in this dissertation, we introduce a business semantics management method and system, based on the following six principles:

  1. ICT Democracy An ontology should be defined by its community, and not by a single developer.
  2. Emergence Semantic interoperability requirements emerge from community evolution processes.
  3. Co-evolution Ontology evolution processes are driven by the changing semantic interoperability requirements.
  4. Perspective Rendering Ontology evolution processes must reflect the various stakeholders’ perspectives.
  5. Perspective Unification In building the common ontology, relevant parts of the various stakeholder perspectives serve as input for the unified perspective.
  6. Validation The explicit rendering of stakeholders perspectives allows us to capture the ontology evolution process completely, and validate the ontology against these perspectives respectively.

Ultimately, co-evolving communities with their ontology will increase overall stakeholder satisfaction.

From these principles we deduced the following three key requirements for the design of our approach.

  1. We formally describe community evolution processes in terms of Nonaka’s knowledge conversion modes that define the cyclic interaction between tacit conceptions and explicit representations in a typical community. We illustrate how these conversion modes conceptually bridge the gap that looms between the computerised subsystem and the social (human) subsystem of the knowledge-intensive community, and by doing so engender an upward knowledge spiral, where individual knowledge opinions become commonly accepted, through an iterative interplay between externalisation and internalisation, and socialisation and combination respectively. This interplay illustrated how knowledge artefacts such as facts and fact types, being key building blocks for ontologies, autonomously co-evolve with their communities of use.

During externalisation socialised facts are abstracted into fact types so they are computer-interpretable, and fact types on their turn are combined into patterns that are internalised back to define new social commitments. Rather than ontology evolution processes, these conversion modes are directly experienced by the individual actors who represent the stakeholders in the community.

  1. Linking these (socio-technical) community evolution processes with the ins and outs of the (technical) ontology evolution activities and vice versa is not straightforward. Therefore, we outline a business semantics management methodology (see also Collibra) consisting of seven activities that enacts community-based ontology evolution, consisting of the following constructs.
    • a two-tier business semantics platform to store and version business semantic patterns;
    • a typology of perspective policies to interlink and control the evolution of
      the patterns;
    • a general business semantics architecture in terms of patterns, perspec-
      tives on these patterns, and policies.
  2. In order to implement the business semantics storage and formally describe the seven business semantics management activities, and their link with the community evolution deliverables, we adopt and extend the DOGMA ontology framework. In that context we also define a perspective management extension to control the divergence and convergence of the community architecture using graph transformation.
  3. Finally, we establish ICT democracy via the explicit identification of affordances and roles of knowledge workers contributing to the ontology. This presumes an explicit metamodel for professional communities including micro-scale semantic patterns such as actor, action, goal, etc., as underlying semiotic framework for business semantics management.

7-step methodology for Business Semantics Management

Finally, we demonstrate and validate our approach and tool in a realistic case study that was carried out within the framework of the European Codrive project. The vision of Codrive was to contribute to more effective and meaningful competency-centric human resource management. Key challenges were the uniform publication of unambiguous competency information and “time-to-competency” agility. To this end, we developed and evolved a shared and formal knowledge representation of competence domains.Validation criteria included the reusability, application independence, and dynamics of the generated semantic patterns. Community stakeholders include educational institutes, public employment organisations, and industry partners from different European countries. The resulting Vocational Competency Ontology wanted to provide a candidate best practice for engineering a community-shared and reusable semantic pattern base that can be applied by all stakeholders to semantically reconcile their competency models.

Currently Collibra is developing software and implementing training programmes in Business Semantics Management in private (e.g., SCA PAckaging) as well as public (e.g., Flemish Ministry of Education and Ministry of Economy,Science, and Innovation ) organisations.


34 Responses to “My PhD dissertation”

  1. alex Says:

    Could u easy me a pdf of your PhD thesis? thanks in advance, cheers.

  2. Knowing your business Says:

    […] Pieter stated in his PhD: “An ontology should be defined by its community, not by a single developer”. BSM is […]

  3. The Virtue of Naming concepts: AdditionsOtherThanThroughBusinessCombinationsCopyrightsPatentsAndOtherIndustrialPropertyRightsServiceAndOperatingRights « Dr. Pieter De Leenheer Says:

    […] my PhD, I developed a methodology that enacts a community to collaboratively construct an ontology […]

  4. Thesis Writing Says:

    Great Information. I am happy to see that still there are few persons who are NOT using auto blog posters to fill the blogs with scrap material. Making a blog and maintaining it is really a hard work. Congrates! I am actually very much interested in dissertation writing. I have written a few dissertations on Marketing, Ecommerce, General Economics etc. I Would like to add to your knowledge that some of the reputed websites are now providing the scholars, complete thesis guidance packages which are really very useful while making dissertation. I have used such guidance packages for making my all dissertations. I have also included the name of such a website. I do not want my commment considered as spam and I have nothing to do with that website so, I will not discuss about it. You can simply click on my name, if you want to visit and check it out. I want to discuss another thing with you? Do not you think that the quality of the dissertations is decreasing day by day? Do not you think so that the scholars are not too much interested and want the shortest way to write thesis and dissertation etc? Want to know about your views? What do you think? Thanks Regards

  5. Retesh Says:

    Your dissertation is of great interest to me. It matches with my area of interest

  6. Retesh Says:

    Could you please email me a copy of your dissertation. I will certainly benifit from it

  7. Sebastian Dietzold Says:

    Hi Peter, could you please send me a PDF of your phd thesis too?

  8. Igor Carneiro Says:

    Dear Pieter,

    would it be possible to receive a copy of your dissertation?
    I am developing some ideas on matter and it certainly would be helpful to read your thoughts on the matter.
    Thanking in advance,

  9. richard Says:

    Dear Pieter,
    could you please send me a COPY of your phd thesis, thank you verry mutch,

  10. youness Says:

    Dear Pieter,
    could you please send me a COPY of your phd thesis, thank you verry mutch,
    youness salti

  11. Timoci Vesikula Says:

    Could I possibly get a copy too please. My thesis is on a similar topic.
    Thank you.

  12. Thongt Says:

    Could you send me a copy of your thesis. thanks you

  13. Owen Helser Says:

    This is a superb thread, im pleased I stumbled onto it. Ill be back again later on to check out other posts that you have on your blog.

  14. B.Junior Says:


    Very interesting work. Is it possible to have a copy to read?

    Thank you.

  15. Olly Says:

    Hi Peter,

    I am very interested in using Web 2.0 technologies in the enterprise environment. Is it possible to have a copy of your work?

    Kind Regards

  16. Edgar Nefflen Says:

    Very Interesting Perspective!

    Please email me a copy of PhD dissertation.

    Thank you,

  17. rajasekhar g Says:

    Sir, I am doing Ph.D in Business Management under Extra-Mural program. I have seen your dissertation contents and willing to read the whole dissertation. If you could mail me your dissertation, I shall read the same for a general idea.


    Yours truly

    G Rajasekhar

  18. daniel hladky Says:

    Hi Pieter,

    I am also interested in your PhD. Could you email it to me? Thanks.

    We are on the process with the HSE ( in Russia to set up a lab that will focus on semantic technologies and business/economy.

    I did also send you an email to your Collibra account.

    Thanks and Regards,

  19. Ayman Says:

    such great work , congratu.. really if it’s possibel to read your whole becuse my PhD proposal have going in a similar topic.


  20. proposal writing Says:

    hi Pieter you have done a grate job , could you send me the whole
    phd to read may i get some ideas form you to put it in my thesis

    kind regards

  21. Keabetswe Lepota Says:

    I’m still new in semantics, but i’m currently busy with my Ph.d proposal on semantic interoperability and integration of goverment department that they use semantics from different departments databases. kindly help me by send me your whole dissertation.

  22. Cory Harner Says:

    Fantastic site, where did you come up with the information in this piece of content? Im happy I found it though, ill be checking back soon to see what other articles you have.

  23. Nick Says:

    Dear Pieter,

    May I have a copy of the thesis?

    An independent consultant learning from best sources like this! :-)

    Thanks in advance,

  24. Moulding USDL in SBVR using Business Semantics Glossary: Part 1 « Says:

    […] divergence in definitions as well, an important step in the ontology evolution process (see the Perspective Rendering principle of my PhD on BSM). The module-based USDL framework allows for clear scoping among speech communities (by […]

  25. GBR Says:

    I am very much interested in reading your entire thesis, can you please email me – Thx much GBR

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