Knowledge engineering tools

This post introduces some of the tools a knowledge engineering team can use to create the logic for an expert system database.

Digital vs analog

Like many forms of facilitation, it’s possible to use post-it notes and large sheets of paper or walls, windows, etc. to create and capture the knowledge content.

These tools can be a great way to let people share the same brain space. But I’ve found they can be a bit slow. A skilled typist can enter a lot of information much faster than someone writing with a sharpie on a post-it note. The typist’s work will also be easier to read and edit.

Paper-based approaches also allow the team to create content that isn’t logically connected in the same way decision trees must be. This can actually be a bit of a drawback considering that an expert system will require logical connections between rules (fuzzy-ness has to actually be built-in, in the form of deductive logic). For these reasons, I’ve found decision tree software to be a good choice for capturing content.

Decision tree software

An expert system’s logic-based rules essentially take the shape of decision trees. Decision trees are capable of capturing and creating a large volume of rules that branch through the domain.

Many mind mapping software applications offer a decision tree structure. In my experience a left-to-right decision tree structure works well.

In live facilitation sessions, the team will have to work together on specific bits of logic. For reference, it can be helpful to refer to nodes in the decision tree as ‘objects’ or ‘an object’. Using an object as a reference point, the object that is connected to it to the right can be called a ‘child’ of that object. Another child of that object can be called a ‘sibling’ of the first child.

Word processors

Any longer text-based content can gradually be moved out of rough notes from decision tree software and into a common word processing file format.

Shared drives & cloud storage

As the decision trees grow, they become intricate and complicated. It’s very difficult to track version control. To avoid creation of conflict copies (e.g. two people were editing the decision tree independently, and caused version control saving errors) the team should use a shared drive or cloud storage solution with decent file conflict features.

I’ve found it helpful to remind the team to always save and upload any local copies of their work to the shared location as soon as they can. If it’s possible that more than one person needs to use the same decision tree at the same time, encourage them to agree on how to deal with version control issues manually.

Audio & desktop sharing 

Busy subject matter experts often have demanding jobs and tight schedules. To save travel time and to make every minute count, I’ve found it helpful to enable remotely conducted live facilitation sessions.

Remote sessions must be supported by audio conferencing software so everyone can talk to each other. They must also be supported by desktop sharing applications so that subject matter experts and the knowledge engineering team can all see the decision tree where the content is being recorded or revised.

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