IBIS Vocabulary

Issue-Based Information Systems for the Semantic Web

Latest draft : (changes)

The material presented here is subject to change. Feedback is requested - please email.


latest schema here : rdf/xml, n3 (2006-01-06 - minor editorial changes, bug in the schema fixed)


Issue-Based Information Systems (IBIS) is a collaborative problem analysis and solving technique. The purpose of this document is to provide URIs/PSIs for the use of IBIS in web languages, and to provide an RDF representation of terms in an IBIS grammar which will be largely interoperable with existing non-RDF usage. This vocabulary is designed to express core IBIS concepts and features a small number of classes and properties which may be extended through the use of other standard or custom vocabularies.

This document is entirely unrelated to the IBIS signal integrity modelling language.

RDF Schema: ibis.rdfs (I think the link above is the one)


    1. The IBIS Process
    2. RDF Representation
  1. Namespace
  2. RDF Classes


1 Introduction

1.1 Origins of IBIS

In their 1970 paper Issues as Elements of Information Systems, Kunz and Rittel introduced Issue-Based Information Systems (IBIS) as a collaborative problem identification and solving tool. The concept is based on processes of argument. The system is particularly useful when at the outset a problem is either poorly defined, and/or preconceptions of the nature of the problem lead to participants in the discussion taking adversarial roles. To avoid the polarisation that is common in debates, IBIS follows a procedure involving a decomposition of the problem. The key to the system is the idea of an issue, which is in effect a question. As the procedure takes place, particular kinds of knowledge artifacts are generated and recorded. Although finding a good solution to any given problem is by no means guaranteed, the process can reveal answers on which a concensus can be reached, or discover aspects of the problem to which other reasoning techniques may be applied.


The system is described in the original paper in terms of a model and algorithms, although at the time of writing the procedures were implemented largely by hand. Subsequent exploration and development lead to the implementation of gIBIS, a sophisticated, hypertext-based graphical tool for using the IBIS techniques by Conklin & Begeman. Later this led to the development of the commercial QuestMap tool, which has since been superceded by the Compendium product.

1.2 The IBIS Process

Initially, the general area in which the problem lies is identified. Within this area issues are identified through discussion, and each is recorded as a question. Possible answers to the question are identified as positions, which may begin as general points of view of individual participants but are crystalised into a clearly defined statements, which are noted. At this point the participants express arguments in favour of or against a position, and these are also recorded. The unravelling of the issues in this fashion may be enough that an answer on which all the participants agree is found - in which case everybody can go home. However, if this is not the case then the positions and arguments are re-examined, and wherever possible treated as issues themselves, and the decomposition cycle repeated.

It is reasonable to expect that this process can aid debate in at least two ways. Firstly the extraction (@@ reification?) of the positions and arguments will abstract these away from the problem as perceived by the participants, allowing individuals to seem these in a neutral manner. This will allow participants to contribute their knowledge and reasoning skills to aspects of the problem that might otherwise seem opposed to their own opinions. Secondly, the decomposition part of the process cycle ensures that change is always occurring, so there is less likelihood of the discussion getting stuck in an infinite loop.

IBIS in effect covers knowledge elicitation, modelling and reasoning. The use of atomic statements and relationships between these statements anticipates some of the core techniques of Semantic Web developers three decades later. Another aspect of the IBIS system that is all-too familiar in the 21st century is the kind of problems it is particularly aimed towards solving are those that have been dubbed 'wicked' (@@ ref - Conklin?). A wicked problem is one in which the nature of the problem itself may be poorly understood, and one in which the terms of reference are unclear or in dispute. Resources are likely to be expended before such a problem is solved by traditional means, whereas IBIS provides a procedure in which conflicts do not have to be resolved before progress can be made.

1.2 RDF Representation

Several pieces of software (see Tools) have be written to help map dialogues, record debate and trace citation paths. Most of these tools include some form of domain modelling - entities and relationships are represented and perhaps constrained in ways that reflect the networks represented. Implementations focus primarily on making a user-friendly recording system, the procedure and necessary reasoning are still carried out manually by human participants.


Main points :