Capturing Analytic Thought


Lowrance, John D., Harrison, Ian W., and Rodriguez, Andres C. Capturing Analytic Thought. Proceeding of the First International Conference on Knowledge Capture, pp. 84-91, October 2001.


The survival of an enterprise often rests upon its ability to make correct and timely decisions, despite the complexity and uncertainty of the environment. Because of the difficulty of employing and scaling formal methods in this context, decision makers typically resort to informal methods, sacrificing structure and rigor. We are developing a new methodology that retains the ease of use, the familiarity, and (some of) the free-form nature of informal methods, while benefiting from the rigor, structure, and potential for automation characteristic of formal methods. Our approach records analysts’ thinking in a corporate knowledge base consisting of structured arguments. The foundation of this knowledge base is an ontology of arguments that includes two main types of formal objects: argument templates and arguments. An argument template records an analytic method as a hierarchically structured set of interrelated questions, and an argument instantiates an argument template by answering the questions posed relative to a specific situation. This methodology emphasizes the use of simple inference structures as the foundation of its argument templates, making it possible for analysts to independently author new templates. When authoring an argument template, the analyst can choose to embed discovery tools, which are recommended methods of acquiring information pertaining to the questions posed. An analyst wanting to record an argument selects an appropriate template, uses the discovery tools to retrieve potentially relevant information, selects that information to retain as evidence and records its relevance, answers the questions, and records the rationale for the answers. The result is a recorded line of reasoning that breaks down the problem, bottoming out at the documents and other forms of information that were used as evidence to support the answers. The resulting collection of arguments and templates constitutes a corporate memory of analytic thought that can be directly exploited by analysts or automated methods.

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