Knowledge engineering | collecting expert knowledge

This post introduces the structure and format for meetings with subject matter experts. These meetings become the “live” facilitation sessions used to collect knowledge for the expert system’s database.

Acquiring expert knowledge

Expert knowledge is collected by knowledge engineers through live facilitation sessions.

Knowledge engineers acquire domain knowledge from subject matter experts through a range of facilitation techniques, including:

  • Random generation: asking subject matter experts to randomly identify types of problems, sub-types, information and outcomesWhat types of problems do you deal with all the time? 
  • Direct description: directly asking subject matter experts to describe the problems, information, potential actions, best outcomes, etc.Tell us about a problem, about the information people need to deal with it, and what the best outcome would be. 
  • Interviews: asking the interviewer a series of questions intended to elicit content for the systemWhat problem have you dealt with the most in the last year? Still on the topic of that problem, what should people know about it right away? What is something you wished people with this problem would do before anything else? What else can this person try? What is a good outcome or conclusion for this problem? What are some other problem types similar to this one?… 
  • Use cases: starting with a use case of a typical non-expert user, and working through from the earliest step of problem identification, through to an outcomeLet’s talk about a user who has the characteristics of people you often help. We’ll call that user Bob. Let’s say Bob has problem X. What is something you think Bob needs to know right away? Will Bob likely have any misunderstandings or mistaken beliefs that you would want to dispel right away? What action would you want Bob to take?… 
  • Domain division: bisecting the domain, often by an actor’s role any number of times into manageable sections or sub-domainsIf we’re talking about the consumer law domain, let’s start by dividing it up between buyers and sellers. Let’s start by dealing with the buyers. Now, let’s focus only on buyers of goods, rather than services. Now let’s narrow it down to people who bought goods online… 
  • Branching: adding branches to existing logic to move into more specific or granular contentLet’s add a problem type to the branch we already started, then add multiple problem sub-types, then add sub-types to those…

Any combination of these approaches can be used in the same project.

Capturing live facilitation

The knowledge engineering team must capture as much of the subject matter expert’s knowledge as they can during a live facilitation session.

The knowledge can be captured in a rough format. Shorthand and abbreviations are fine.  A series of notes or bullets can stand in for a first pass on longer text-based documents.

Because the subject matter expert is will likely have limited time (and brainpower) available, the rough work approach to capturing live facilitation sessions will make the most of it.

Knowledge content elaboration

Between live facilitation sessions with the subject matter expert, the content can be revised and reworked. These efforts include basic things like:

  • turning shorthand into more complete text
  • converting bullets and random notes into more complete informational resources
  • completing any steps spelled out by notes the team took for itself during the facilitation session

More advanced revision and rework can include things like:

  • moving concepts and facts into a question and answer format
  • mocking up new logic branches that appear to be similar, but slightly different, than others in the area of the sub-domain, for future validation with the subject matter expert
  • experimenting with new logic structures to improve the flow or accuracy of the expert content

Work breakdown

Live facilitation sessions can be scheduled for any length and frequency. In my experience, a 1.5 hour or 2 hour long session is a good target. Any shorter, and the team may not be able to achieve a good flow of work. Any longer, and the team may get tired under the heavy cognitive load of the work.

A maximum of 1.5 or 2 hours of live facilitation will also limit the amount of time the team can spend in a single session struggling with a particularly challenging problem.

For every hour of live facilitation, the elaboration process should take at least 1 to 3 hours longer. Teams who are more productive with this phase of work will make better use of their subject matter experts’ limited time.

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