Sunday, July 29, 2012

Definition Reference

In the previous posts I had the idea of a person or group that creates a definition.  This was a rough draft of a part of another concept system that I am calling Definition Reference.  Figure 1 shows this concept system.  The unquoted terms are the official terms in this concept system.  The quoted terms are shortened versions of the official terms, which are univocal (have only one meaning) within the concept system, but are generally equivocal (have more than one meaning) if you increase scope to beyond the system shown here, and must be used with care.

Figure 1: Definition Reference Concept System

The Concepts in The System

The concepts in this system are as follows:

Definition Reference: a source of a definition

Informal Definition Source: a Definition Reference that cannot be relied upon. There is no guarantee that it is correct.

Definition Authority: a Definition Reference that can be relied on. There is some kind of guarantee that it is correct.

Definition Authoritative Reference: a Definition Authority that has recorded a definition, but did not create it.

Definition Creator: a Definition Authority that created a definition

Definition Analyst: a Definition Creator who creates a definition in the absence of one, but does not claim to have originally created the definition.

Definition Stipulator: a Definition Creator who claims to have originally created a definition

Legislative Definition Authority: a Definition Stipulator who has legitimacy sufficient to make a definition they create binding upon one or more Legislative Definition Users.

Recognized Expert: a Definition Stipulator whose prestige or reputation is sufficient to make a definition they create acceptable to one or more people.

Informal Stipulator: a Definition Stipulator who has no basis for obtaining acceptance of a definition they create.


I am happy with this so far. Here are some random thoughts:

(1) The concept system is a purely generic one (like a Tree of Porphyry). Everything in it is a genus or species of something else (or supertype and subtype if you prefer). This makes it easy to deal with - every relationship if of the same type ("is genus of").

(2) It is easy to see how terms will be shortened and how confusion can occur even within this concept system. For instance, if someone uses the term "Authority" they might mean Definition Authority, Definition Authoritative Reference, or Legislative Definition Authority.

(3) The species (subtypes) of Definition Stipulator are worrying. They only exist in reference to how people accept the definitions. A law with a particular definition that is passed in Canada will not affect me in the USA. I might not recognize an individual as an expert because I am unfamiliar with their work. This area needs further investigation, and it is missing relationships to users of definitions (see Legislative Definition User in prior posts). Also, this is where we depart from the Tree of Porphyry structure.

(4) I think the concept system provides good input to a governance framework for definition management.

(5) I need to expand the definitions provided above - they are preliminary and abbreviated.

(6) I think I can make some of the differentia contradictory. For instance Definition Authority descends into two contradictory species, depending on whether the definition was created or not. This means that I will not have missed any other class at this level. However, I do not think I can reliably do this everywhere.

(7) By creating a visual concept system, it becomes much easier to formulate definitions. I know this is not the point of this post, but it struck me how easy it was to write the definitions with the diagram in front of me. If I was doing a glossary, all the terms would be distributed throughout it and would need much more robust definitions. For example in a prior post I had Legislative Definition Authority (then simply termed "Authority") defined as "an individual person or organization who has legitimacy sufficient to make any Legislative Definition they create binding on one or more Legislative Definition Users".

1 comment:

  1. We have been using this approach with government agencies for the past 6 years. I've also used Black's Law Dictionary when working with legal.

    The graphical representation is a great addition.

    Authoritative Source

    Uses: Identifies the reference source for the data element definition

    Note: Authoritative sources include statutory and regulatory citations, and citations from organization documents. Authoritative sources can also be the organization’s subject matter experts, to long-standing child-support convention, as well as external references such as standards setting bodies. The precedence of these authoritative sources in descending order is:

    1. Statute
    2. Regulation
    3. Action Transmittal/ Policy Interpretation
    4. Dear Colleague Letter (DCL)
    5. Subject Matter Expert
    6. Convention.

    Statutes are the preferred source of data element name definitions. However, because of their specialized usage and need, many definitions will not have references in a statute or regulation. Research other sources for the appropriate definition.

    Requirement: Every definition must reference an Authoritative Source.