In the distributed multi-agent systems discussed in this chapter, heterogeneous autonomous agents interoperate in order to achieve their goals. In such environments, agents can be embedded in diverse contexts and interact with agents of various types and behaviours. Mechanisms are needed for coordinating these multi-agent interactions, and so far they have included tools for the support of conversation protocols and tools for the establishment and management of agent groups and electronic institutions. In this chapter, we explore the necessity of dealing with openness in multi-agent systems and its relation with the agent’s autonomy. We stress the importance to build coordination mechanisms capable of managing complex agent societies composed by autonomous agents and introduce our institutional environment approach, which includes the use of commitments and normative spaces. It is based on a metaphor in which agents may join an open system at any time, but they must obey regulations in order to maintain a suitable reputation, that reflects its degree of cooperation with other agents in the group, and make them a more desired partner for others. Coloured Petri Nets are used to formalize a workflow in the institutional environment defining a normative space that guides the agents during interactions in the conversation space.
How does one constrain an environment as heterogeneous as a human community? In different parts of the world different rules and norms are created so that the members of that group of people can feel a sense of security and order, so that they can carry on with their lives in a more predictable way. When a person needs some kind of service they know where to go, and if not they will ask another person or consult some kind of public catalogue. Once the person chooses to go to a place and make use of some sort of service he will make use of his past experiences and knowledge to carry on with actions, autonomously, and in a more or less standard way. Rules are there to be followed as well as to guide the members of a community so that they will have their rights observed in local and global aspects.