Integration of Communities into Process-Oriented Structures
(University of Leipzig, Germany
(Fraunhofer-Institut für Software- und Systemtechnik ISST, Berlin,
Abstract: This article aims at the integration of communities
of practice into work processes. Linear structures are often inappropriate
for the execution of knowledge intensive tasks and work processes. The
latter are characterized by non-linear sequences and dynamic, social interaction.
But for the work in communities of practice the leading path, that is needed
for structuring the work, is often missing. Our article exposes the requirements
in order to integrate the dynamic, social processes of the knowledge generation
in communities of practice with formal described knowledge intensive processes.
For the support of communities the Wiki-concept is introduced. In order
to integrate communities into process structures a concept for an appropriate
interface is presented. On the basis of this interface concept an information
retrieval algorithm is used to connect the process-oriented structures
with community-oriented structures. The prototype realisation of this concept
is shown by a short example.
Keywords: cooperative knowledge generation, knowledge community, knowledge-intensive
processes, process-oriented knowledge structures, Wiki
Categories: H.3.3, H.3.5, H.5.3, H.5.4
The knowledge to handle concrete, practical tasks in the work process
often exists already in IT systems, e.g. codified in information systems,
documents and community applications. This knowledge which is existent
in the company should be transparent and available throughout the organisation.
The existing knowledge must be made available according to a collectively
accepted and work process-oriented knowledge structure. For this purpose
process structures are suitable in particular, because it is easier to
establish a relationship between the own work process and the available
knowledge carriers (e.g. persons, documents etc.). Thus, knowledge carriers
that are relevant to work processes or to specific activities can be found
and used easier. Technologies and tools of the process-oriented knowledge
management can provide support for such a structured supply of knowledge.
An example for such a tool is the APO-Pilot [Fuchs-Kittowski,
In knowledge-intensive work processes it can be necessary to develop
new knowledge ad hoc and in cooperation with other people. Therefore the
so far available IT solutions of the knowledge management are not adequate.
These IT solutions make the already familiar knowledge, e.g. in form of
documents, along inflexible knowledge structures (ontologies) available
relating to the context.
Knowledge intensive tasks respectively knowledge generation processes
are nonlinear, dynamic and socially imbedded [Brown,
89]. Especially the workflow of the processes as well as the required
knowledge cannot be determined and made available completely in advance.
In contrast, communities support communication that is essential for the
exchange of knowledge and experiences. Communities allow thus processes
for the cooperative knowledge generation and for the solving of problems.
But knowledge, which is generated in and explained through communities
is often characterised through a chaotic structure, an enormous size and
fast growth. A technical support of communities must cope with the challenge
to make a context-based access possible to the explained knowledge of the
In this paper a concept to support the cooperative knowledge generation
in communities in knowledge-intensive work processes and a tool, which
is based on this concept will be presented. The central idea is the integration
of communities with process-oriented knowledge structures. Therefore a
community support was designed which refers to the work cycle as a context.
Furthermore, it is oriented on the tasks and problems that can occur there.
On the one hand, technology supports the context-based access to the knowledge
of the community. On the other hand, it supports the flexible generation
and conservation of new knowledge and experiences in the community alongside
knowledge structures. The weakness of today's community applications, at
which a context-based access to the chaotic generated knowledge is not
possible, will be overcome. Furthermore, the weakness of knowledge management
systems, which are not flexible enough for the cooperative knowledge generation,
will be overcome.
The storage of knowledge and the supply of the members of the community
are done with the help of knowledge networks. A knowledge network is a
technical tool that can be used by the community to store their knowledge
electronically. The persons of the community can combine their knowledge
with other knowledge components of the knowledge network. Furthermore,
members of the community have access to knowledge, which was stored by
other persons of the community. An example for such a knowledge network
is a Wiki.
The requirements for a software tool that can be used in the outlined
problem situation will be described in chapter 2. We
show that the Wiki concept is an adequate approach to meet the requirements
for a cooperative generation of knowledge (chapter 3).
Thereafter, a concept for the integration of communities into process-oriented
knowledge structures will be developed. For this purpose, an interface
is designed that realises process and context specific views on the knowledge
of the community (chapter 4). With the help of this
interface synergies of the connection of communities and the process-oriented
knowledge structures will be developed.
2 Connection of Process Structures and Communities
To accomplish knowledge-intensive work processes, knowledge supply as
well as (cooperative) knowledge generation is needed. In order to assure
this, technologies of the knowledge management must be connected with tools
for the support of communities in an appropriate way [Fuchs-Kittowski,
03b]. With the integration, the continuous development of the provided
knowledge in a cooperative process must be reached.
Figure 1: Connection of communities with work processes
Therefore, a tool meeting the following additional requirements must
- Context-related (process-oriented) access to the knowledge network
respectively knowledge of the community. The individual situation
provides the context on the basis of which available information is interpreted.
This context in turn can be used to enable the creation of a process-specific
perspective of the knowledge network. This serves to determine the context-specific
relevance of the individual components of the network.
- Cooperative generation and conservation of knowledge in the community
without a restriction of the social, self-organised knowledge generation
process of the community by given process-structures. This basically
means that an extension of the community knowledge can also be operated
in a process-spanning way, making an (explicit) allocation to individual
- A possibility to (loosely) associate knowledge components. The
process-spanning construction of the knowledge network leads to a situation
where the relevance of network components that are not directly linked
with a process-step does not automatically become clear. This missing reference
to the work process (context) may lead to a diffuse structure disabling
the user to orient and find his way in the knowledge network. Thus, the
context (i.e. reference to the individual operations in the work process)
of any component in the network must be retraceable.
The above-mentioned integration requirements are met by a concept for
an interface that will be introduced in chapter 3.
3 Cooperative Knowledge Generation with the Wiki
The Wiki approach seems to be an adequate community solution to meet
the requirements made for the IT support of the cooperative knowledge generation.
Ward Cunningham developed the software "WikiWikiWeb" in 1995.
The word "wiki wiki" derives from the Hawaiian language and means
"fast" [Leuf, 01]. The word "Wiki"
is used to name special documents (Wikis), to name the common concept of
these documents (Wiki) or to name the used software (Wiki-Server, Wiki-Engine)
Figure 2: Communication-oriented classification
A "Wiki" is an open authoring tool to create and maintain
web pages within a community. In a "Wiki" information can be
collected and links to further Wiki pages can be stored. Wiki software
offers a fast and simple possibility to create and edit web pages online.
The pages of the Wiki can be commented, modified, supplemented and even
deleted from all users. New pages can be created easily and they can be
linked to already existing pages. A Wiki-Web is mainly characterised by
a simple interaction and navigation on the web pages. In this manner the
boundaries between the (active) author and the (passive) user of contents
are repealed. In doing so, a big chaotic formation of linked Wiki pages
is built fast (knowledge network).
All users or a limited group of users have central access to the Wiki-Web.
That's why the Wiki-Web is suitable for the execution of projects, the
development of documentations or the joint production of concepts. Furthermore,
it can be used as a discussion forum. In the field of the knowledge management
the Wiki-Web offers a special potential for the knowledge development.
The provided knowledge can be changed and extended immediately without
any big efforts. Thus, an integrated, interdisciplinary and cooperative
knowledge base is the result.
The popularity of this approach is based on the following factors [Huhmann,
- Wikis have a very low usage barrier, because of their flexible structure
and the realisation of a very simple handling. * The Wiki is very fast
in building up the web pages, because it works without any graphical elements
and complex layout structures. Thus very low resources are required.
- Wiki-Engines are available as open source solutions, so they are free
of acquisition and licence costs.
- A Wiki can be installed and administrated easily, because of its extreme
low complexity (available from 170 lines of source code).
- In the fast growing pool of easy accessible information a full-text
search can be done.
A Wiki can be used for different scenarios, e.g. as a content management
system, as a discussion forum or as other forms of group ware. But the
special characteristics of a Wiki have to be taken into account. New gained
knowledge can be collected easily with the help of a Wiki and it can be
integrated into the already existing knowledge base through the user himself.
The specific advantage of the Wiki approach compared to other forms of
the cooperative knowledge exchange and generation is that the process of
communication as well as the result of the communication is focused. Content
and document management systems have their focus rather on the exchange
of the results of the cooperation. The result of communication processes
for that document are difficult to handle, e.g. through the annotation
on or in documents. Discussion forums rather focus on the process of the
cooperation between the participants. Opinions can be changed and a common
understanding will be created. But the result of the discussion mostly
stays implicitly in the discussion contributions and has to be extracted
and compressed later on. Wikis in contrast allow a discussion as well as
the work on a common result at the same time. The above mentioned requirements
on a tool to support the cooperative knowledge generation are largely fulfilled
through the mentioned characteristics of a Wiki. In a Wiki the separation
of author and reader is repealed. That's why the cooperative generation
of contents is realised especially effectively.
In the beginning, the big importance of the conscious and active benefit
of the knowledge of other people was already explained. Furthermore the
development of a common coherence through the establishment of communities
of practice was postulated. These requirements can be fulfilled through
a Wiki as well, because it supports the direct cooperation with other people
4 Integration of Knowledge Networks into Process-Oriented
The concept of the integration of knowledge networks into process-oriented
knowledge structures will be developed below. For this purpose an interface
will be designed, which makes it possible to realise process and context
specific views on the knowledge network. The developed integration concept
is based on the idea that the knowledge network should not be developed
detached from the process structure. Instead of that the process structure
should be included as a design criteria.
The assumption, that the user of the knowledge network executes one
of the known processes while a knowledge gap occurs, is a big clue for
the design of the network. The situation of the user inside the just now
executed process creates a context, in which the provided information will
be interpreted. This context again can be used to make a process-oriented
view possible on the knowledge network. This view can be used determining
the context-specific relevance for each element of the network. A result
of the developed integration concept is the description of the cooperation
between the process model, the knowledge network and the corresponding
4.1 Interface Modelling between the Process-oriented Structure and
the Knowledge Network
Facilitating a process-specific perspective of the knowledge network,
an object associated with the corresponding process (step) must be anchored
in the knowledge network. This object creates a one-to-one connection between
a defined process-step on one side and network components on the other
side. Figure 3 explains the structure of this interface model.
Figure 3: Interface modelling between process model and knowledge
In the lower part of the picture the processes P1 and P2 are illustrated
as a section from a knowledge-intensive process. Both processes are each
subdivided into two sub-steps (activities) T1 and T2. The arrows connecting
the processes with their sub-steps show the sequence of their execution.
The picture shows an example with two hierarchy levels. In principle, any
number of levels is possible.
The arrows connecting the processes (sub-steps) with the components
of the knowledge network represent the actual interface. Every part in
knowledge-intensive processes can be matched with a one-to-one network
component. With the help of these connections the process structure in
the network can be automatically reproduced. Besides the referring links
for illustrating the process structure, the network components contain
predominantly links to those knowledge components on the net relevant for
the respective processes. The development of such knowledge components
and the creation of corresponding links are part of the change operations
by the user.
4.2 Information Retrieval in an Integrated Knowledge Network
The interface linking knowledge-intensive process and the knowledge
network permits the user to adjust the information retrieval to his potential
information demand and accordingly evaluate the network components.
Thus, we assume that two documents referring to each other have a contextual
correlation [Croft, 89]. Furthermore, we assume
a gradual reduction of relevance of a document for a specific process-step
if the number of references between this process-step and the document
increases. This is a model assumption describing the ideal-type network
conditions that might not apply under real-life circumstances. Promoting
a better understanding of this case, we introduce the term referential
distance. The number of available documents will be described by D, the
number of process-steps by P. If the relevance of a document d to a process-step
p be rpd for p = 1...P and d = 1...D, the referential distance
tpd represents the distance of the document to the origin of
the reference-chain, the process p. The referential distance corresponds
to the shortest distance between the point of origin and the correlating
document measured with the number of the minimally necessary references.
Thus, the potential relevance of a document compared to the origin of referencing
can be described. With an increasing referential distance a decreasing
of relevance can be expected.
In case of a transformation of the entire knowledge network according
to a process-specific perspective, the referential distance tpd compared
to the present process-step respectively the interface component must be
determined for every document d. Subsequently, all the documents with the
same reference distance tpd can be pooled in so-called distance
Regarding an extensive knowledge network with thousands of sites, it
is easy to see that the referential distance can only roughly structure
the relevance of documents. Since documents in the same distance class
may differ considerably, a more precise distinction becomes inevitable.
We assume that the relevance of a document in a distance class increases
with the number of references from the same or a superior distance class.
This is based on the assumption that the reference to a document can be
interpreted as a vote for this document. This assumption is partly founded
on the PageRankTM-Technology by L. Page and S. Brin, core piece
of the extraordinarily successful search engine Google [Brin,
98]. A rating of a document in this sense is conducted solely on the
basis of a vote of other documents with at least equal or higher relevance
(based on the referential distance). This term will be defined as distance
class-depending frequency of reference hkd within a distance class k.
These specific distance classes k as well as the corresponding frequencies
of reference hkd serve as an instrument to bring the documents
in a process-specific sequence. For determining the relevance rpd,
the following function is applied:
Formula 1: Relevance
The value of the relevance initially decreases with the increasing distance
class k. It can in turn be improved by references hkd to the
document. K is therefore reduced by the quotient. The parameter m says
which number of references would help to increase the relevance of a document
in order to exceed its original distance class. The relevance of a document
d = 1 out of the distance class k with hk1 = m would correspond
to the relevance of a document d = 2 out of the distance class k-1 and
h(k-1)1 = 1. In case of hk1 > m, the relevance
of the document d = 1 has a value corresponding with the relevance of a
document d = 2 with h(k-1)2 < m. The relevance of the given
document can have a value ranging from 0 to 1, with rpd = 1
being the highest possible relevance. If the number of references would
be so high as to exceed rpd = 1, rpd = 1 is assumed.
The interface document always holds the relevance rpd = 1.
In the following lines, the query algorithm will be exemplified. We
assume a user in the middle of the process "developing a basic concept"
who wants to search the Wiki looking for the term "requirements specifications"
as part of the process. Figure 4 lists all the processes and Wiki-sites
relevant for this process.
Figure 4 also shows where (in which distance class) the individual sites
are located from the point of view of the process "developing a basic
concept". Moreover, the frequency of reference hkd as well
as the process-specific relevance rpd of every site is revealed, based
on the parameter m = 3. All the processes shown in figure 4 (black and
grey) are searched for this term. In case of the document "developing
a basic concept", the calculation of the relevance amounts to rpd
= 1 based on the distance class k = 1. The frequency of reference hkd
is zero since this site is referred to by no other Wiki-site and the reference
from the process is only imaginarily made due to the above-described matching
The document "requirements definition" is located in the distance
class k = 2 and it has only one incoming link which results in a relevance
of rpd = 0.6. The document "requirements specifications",
which is located in the distance class k = 3, also has a process-specific
relevance of rpd = 0.6. This value which seems to be atypical
for this distance class derives from hkd = 4 references. In
this case hkd > m which means the document "drops out" of
its distance class. It receives the same relevance as the superior document
"requirements definition" (seen from the process view). The document
"specification project assignment" is characterised through k
= 4 and hkd = 2 which results in a relevance of rpd
= 0.3. This result will be sorted according to its relevance and it will
be presented as figure 5 shows.
Figure 4: Diagrammatic illustration of a Wiki-section for
the process "developing a basic concept" (explicit query)
5 Realisation of the Prototype
In this chapter, we will introduce a tool meeting the above described
specifications. This implementation consists of three components. First,
the APO-Pilot is used as a process-oriented, global knowledge base. Second,
the PmWiki will serve as the Community-Support-System supporting the process
of cooperative knowledge generation. In addition to that, an interface
according to the above-mentioned concept was implemented between the APO-Pilot
and PmWiki. First, the APO-Pilot is shortly introduced. The implemented
interface will be presented in greater detail subsequently.
5.1 The APO-Pilot: A Process-oriented Knowledge Base
Working in knowledge-intensive work processes requires knowledge tied
to the activities in the work process. With the APO-Pilot, a tool accompanying
the work process was implemented that consistently follows the aspect of
process-orientation. The APO-Pilot supports the process of generating knowledge
in the work process and facilitates the backflow of new knowledge acquired
by applying available resources, reflecting the work process and making
The APO-Pilot facilitates a process-oriented navigation through the
modelled work processes of a company. Working as an assistant without an
active control, it visualises the run of the process as event-driven process
chain and supports the structuring of the work process. Besides the supply
of knowledge to supply the run of the process, every process-step and every
activity is provided with different knowledge carriers helping the employee
to cope with his tasks. These sources of knowledge, commonly distributed
in different IT systems and independent from work processes are now integrated
and structured in a uniform, process-oriented view. Every process-step
and every operation will be provided with documents or other adequate learning
material (e.g. from the intranet; domain "library"). Appropriate
persons as competence carriers (experts etc.) are suggested with available
means of communication (mail, telephone, video etc.) in the domain "people".
In the "discussion" domain, discussion boards are supplied for
exchanging experiences, perspectives and opinions as well as trouble shooting.
In addition to that, an access to a Wiki will also be supplied for a process-spanning
support of a cooperative knowledge generation.
Figure 5: APO-Pilot
5.2 Cooperative Knowledge Generation: The PmWiki
To realise the Wiki for the APO-Pilot the PmWiki, which had been developed
by Patrick R. Michaud [Michaud, 04], was used.
The PmWiki is a small Wiki which is written in PHP. Adaptations regarding
the content and the layout were necessary. On the one hand, the PmWiki
was used because of its usability based on the GNU Public Licence. On the
other hand, it is easily adaptable because of its implementation in PHP.
Furthermore, the PmWiki has some characteristics which are unusual for
Wikis, but necessary in connection with the use of the APO-Pilot. One of
the characteristics is the possibility to organise documents in groups
and to provide them with access authorization. Another important feature
of the PmWiki is its expected continuous further development whereby a
stable basis for the future development of the here introduced prototype
5.3 Functionality of the Interface
The APO-Pilot, as an example for a knowledge base structured by processes,
supplies every process-step or activity with an access to the Wiki. Starting
from the current process, in this case "developing a basic concept",
the corresponding Wiki-site can be addressed immediately or the entire
Wiki is searched for a specific term (e.g. "requirements specification",
see figure 6).
Figure 6: Wiki access page
The direct call of the Wiki leads to the invocation of the
correlating process-specific interface-document in a separate browser
window. This Wiki-site can be edited, new sites can be created or the
Wiki can be "navigated" through (see figure 7).
Figure 7: Interface page
Looking for a search item in the Wiki, all the sites of the Wiki are
searched. With the help of distance classes and distance class-depending
frequency of reference of the chosen process-step, the hits will be screened,
evaluated and presented according to their process-specific relevance (see
Figure 8: Process-based searching result
Beside the relevance, graphically expressed by a green bar as well as
in percentage, the result also contains features of the correlating distance
Furthermore, the name of the site and the context of the search
item are presented. Clicking on the name of the site, the Wiki is
opened in the corresponding place. The head of the site shows general
information of the result of the query, particularly the process the
query was conducted for. This piece of information is important since
a query with the same search item for another process would have lead
to a completely different result.
Figure 9: Return to the process model
The return to the APO-Pilot is possible from every Wiki-site. If the
current site is an interface-site, the corresponding process-step will
be opened in the APO-Pilot. In case of finding no matching site, all those
process-steps with the shortest referential distance compared to the chosen
Wiki-site are determined. Simultaneously, the user is provided with a facility
to return to the APO-Pilot.
5.4 Technological Design of the Interface
The connection of the APO-Pilot and the PmWiki is realised through a
communication via HTTP. Both programmes make their enquiries to an interface
file, which is written in PHP. Furthermore, a mapping file is necessary
which contains the process identifiers and the associated HTML page names
of the APO-Pilot.
The mapping file is necessary for the interface file to determine the
corresponding APO or Wiki page on the basis of the process name or to execute
a process-specific search. The interface documents will be created automatically
by calling a page with the corresponding process name in the Wiki. If this
page doesn't exist, it will be created automatically and it can be completed
with content by the user.
To increase the flexibility of the above mentioned components they can
be stored spatially spread. An appropriate customisation of the interface
is possible with the help of parameters.
Knowledge-intensive processes are characterised predominantly by problems
that cannot be anticipated, containing beside a process-related supply
of available knowledge sources also processes of cooperative problem solving.
Due to a high complexity of problems, cooperative problem solving requires
a process-spanning exchange of knowledge. It became clear that knowledge
communities can highly contribute to increase the intrinsic motivation
for sharing knowledge by creating a platform for Communities of Practice.
The Wiki approach was introduced as a technological means to realise a
knowledge network like this. With the help of the Wiki the classical roles
"author" and "recipient" are removed. Creating synergies
in combining knowledge networks and process-oriented knowledge structures
was described by the integration concept. The core piece of this concept
is an interface that facilitates process-specific perspectives of the knowledge
of the community (knowledge network) on the basis of the referential distance
and the distance class-depending frequency of reference of a document.
In conclusion, a prototype implementation could be presented and executed
on the basis of an integration concept (Wiki into APO-Pilot).
With the prototype-implementation of a Wiki in the APO-Pilot, we managed
to develop a tool for a cooperative knowledge generation while considering
the afore-mentioned requirements. The particularly low usage barrier due
to the easy and intuitive usability of the Wiki as well as the improvement
of the information retrieval process in the knowledge network by using
process structures serve as examples for that.
In the implementation and test phase, the following features of the
tool turned out to be of advantage:
- Due to the context-based entry and exit using process-structures into
respectively out of the Wiki, a decisively better orientation * within
the knowledge network could be reached. Moreover, the information retrieval
process could be improved by far.
- Following no conventions regarding the structure of the Wiki, an easy-to-use
handling and creative options could be managed.
- Extensive sites with numerous references can be created in a very short
In general terms, the prototype can be considered as a successful implementation
of the integration concept. In an ideal case, this result should be approved
in a usability test in a next step, as strong and weak points will only
occur in daily business. These will be realised by the learner in the execution
of real-life cooperative processes.
In the following, some aspects will be given that could be taken into
consideration for the further development of the presented concept.
6.1 Community-dependent Wikis
Different Wikis for different user groups could be an alternative. Especially
if there are very large communities, this procedure could be interesting
to obtain the incentive for knowledge sharing. In too large communities
the individual maybe doesn't feel perceived or there are problems in understanding
because of too many departments that are represented in the Wiki. The perception
as an expert is one of central requirements for an efficient Community
of Practice [Lave, 91; Maslow, 70].
6.2 Typified Links
The associative links that are used in Wikis show semantic resemblance
between two documents. But mostly, it is not obvious, if the referenced
document is a definition, a discussion about the topic or an open article.
With the help of typified links it would be possible to inform the user
about the expected document type before he activates the link. Such possibilities
are already provided through the HTML 4.0 Standard [W3C, 98].
6.3 Topic Maps to Structure Wikis
Topic Maps could be used to classify documents in large Wikis. In this
manner, a meta level could be created which can be compared with a community
dependent glossary. The users of the Wiki would have to maintain the glossary
and so they would systematise the community dependent technical terms.
The Topic Map itself could contain links to the appropriate Wiki pages
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