Structural Aspects of Organizations

Structural Aspects of Organizations

Davide Grossi (Utrecht University, The Netherlands) and Frank Dignum (Utrecht University, The Netherlands)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-256-5.ch008
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In this chapter we investigate how organizations can be represented as graphs endowed with formal semantics. We distinguish different dimensions of organizations. Each of these dimensions leads to a different structure in the organizational graph. By giving the graphs a formal semantics in Description Logic we show that it is possible to formalize the effect of the organization on the activities of the agents playing the roles of the organization. Such perspective, which combines quantitative (graph-theory) and qualitative (logic) methods is shown to provide a formal ground for the study and analysis of properties of organizations which are commonly addressed only informally.
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“Als je voor elke positie de beste speler kiest, heb je nog geen sterk elftal maar een team dat als los zand uiteen valt.''

“If you choose the best player for each position, you still don't get a strong team but a group which falls apart as loose sand.''

J. Cruijff, Dutch football folklore



In Multi-agent Systems (MAS) software agents enjoy some degree of autonomy (Wooldridge & Jennings, 1995), exactly like human agents in human societies. As a consequence, in MAS the same problem arises of guaranteeing the designed system to exhibit some desired global properties without hampering the agents' autonomy. The opportunity of a `technology transfer' from the field of organizational and social theory to distributed Artificial Intelligence first (Fox, 1988), and then to MAS (V. Dignum 2003; Vázquez-Salceda, 2004) has often been advocated. In recent years, some research in MAS is even aiming at the explicit incorporation of entities such as organizations and institutions (normative systems) in computer systems, as testified by several contributions in the AAMAS conference series (Gini et al., 2002; Rosenschein et al., 2003; Jennings et al. 2004; F. Dignum et al., 2005; Weiss & Stone, 2006), the ALFEBIITE project (Pitt, 1999) and the COIN workshop series (Boissier et al., 2006; V. Dignum et al., 2007). Furthermore, several methodologies for MAS are based on organizational structures as their cornerstones such as, for instance, OperA (V. Dignum, 2003) and TROPOS (Bresciani et al., 2004), and GAIA (Zambonelli et al., 2003).

Notwithstanding this interest for organizations in MAS, little has been done to answer the key question What is an organization?'' or, less ambitiously, How can an organization be formally represented?''.

As a matter of fact, formal tools for the rigorous representation of organizational structure in MAS are not yet available and the study of organizational structure is still mainly informal. The literature on MAS ---with very few exceptions such as in particular Hannoun et al. (2002) and Hübner et al. (2002)--- addresses this type of structures only in an informal way by means of diagrams and charts like in Decker & Lesser (1995). In such informal studies, many issues remain hidden in the figures. We believe that, in order to successfully import the notion of organization for the design of MAS, “the space of organizational options must be mapped, and their relative benefits and costs understood'' (Horling & Lesser, 2004), and to provide such a “map'' a rigorous analysis of organizational structure plays a crucial role. If we want the notion of structure to be of any practical use for MAS, figures are plainly not enough, since they fail to address two fundamental aspects of organizational structures: 1) The formal (graph-theoretical) properties of the links between the roles in the structure; 2) The `meaning' of those links, that is to say, the effects they have on the activities of the agents populating the organization. These considerations lead us to the research question of the present chapter: “How can we formally represent organizational structures and their effect on the activities of the agents?”. More specifically, we will be addressing the following two issues:

  • 1.

    What are the graph-theoretical properties of the links connecting the roles in the structure?

  • 2.

    What is the `meaning' of those links, that is to say, the effects they have on the activities of the agents operating the organization?

Key Terms in this Chapter

Mentalistic link: It is a link in an organizational structure whose semantics is given in terms of epistemic/doxastic notions such as knowledge.

Efficiency: It is the property of organizations concerning their ability to carry out their tasks with minimal amount of resources. The structural aspects of efficiency can be exactly quantified with graph-theoretical methods.

Coordination: It is the structural dimension concerning the flow of information within the organization.

Enactment link: It is a link connecting an agent to a role. An agent enacting a role is called role-enacting agent.

Power: It is the structural dimension concerning the delegation of tasks within the organization.

Flexibility: It is the property of organizations concerning their ability to adapt to different operative situations. The structural aspects of flexibility can be exactly quantified with graph-theoretical methods.

Institutional link: It is a link in an organizational structure whose semantics is given in terms of normative notions such as obligation.

Control: It is the structural dimension concerning the supervision of tasks within the organization.

Robustness: It is the property of organizations concerning their stability in front of potential failures. The structural aspects of robustness can be exactly quantified with graph-theoretical methods.

Complete Chapter List

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Editorial Advisory Board
Table of Contents
Liz Sonenberg
Virginia Dignum
Virginia Dignum
Chapter 1
Virgina Dignum
Agent Organization can be understood from two perspectives: organization as a process and organization as an entity. That is, organization is... Sample PDF
The Role of Organization in Agent Systems
Chapter 2
Luciano R. Coutinho, Jaime S. Sichman, Olivier Boissier
In this chapter, we discuss the concepts of agent organization, organizational model, and review some existing organizational models. Before the... Sample PDF
Modelling Dimensions for Agent Organizations
Chapter 3
Jacques Ferber, Tiberiu Stratulat, John Tranier
In this chapter, we stress the importance of thinking a MAS in all its aspects (agents, environment, interactions, organizations, and institutions)... Sample PDF
Towards an Integral Approach of Organizations in Multi-Agent Systems
Chapter 4
Scott A. DeLoach
This chapter introduces a suite of technologies for building complex, adaptive systems. It is based in the multi-agent systems paradigm and uses the... Sample PDF
OMACS: A Framework for Adaptive, Complex Systems
Chapter 5
Christopher Cheong, Michael Winikoff
Although intelligent agents individually exhibit a number of characteristics, including social ability, flexibility, and robustness, which make them... Sample PDF
Hermes: Designing Flexible and Robust Agent Interactions
Chapter 6
Viara Popova, Alexei Sharpanskykh
This chapter introduces a formal framework for modeling and analysis of organizations. It allows representing and reasoning about all important... Sample PDF
A Formal Framework for Organization Modeling and Analysis
Chapter 7
Maksim Tsvetovat
Agent-based approaches provide an invaluable tool for building decentralized, distributed architectures and tying together sets of disparate... Sample PDF
Describing Agent Societies: A Declarative Semantics
Chapter 8
Davide Grossi, Frank Dignum
In this chapter we investigate how organizations can be represented as graphs endowed with formal semantics. We distinguish different dimensions of... Sample PDF
Structural Aspects of Organizations
Chapter 9
Virgina Dignum, Frank Dignum
Organization concepts and models are increasingly being adopted for the design and specification of multi-agent systems. Agent organizations can be... Sample PDF
A Logic for Agent Organizations
Chapter 10
Cristiano Castelfranchi
This chapter presents organizations as a macro-micro notion and device; they presuppose autonomous proactive entities (agents) playing the... Sample PDF
Grounding Organizations in the Minds of the Agents
Chapter 11
Paolo Torroni, Pinar Yolum, Munindar P. Singh, Marco Alberti, Federico Chesani, Marco Gavanelli, Evelina Lamma, Paola Mello
Organizational models often rely on two assumptions: openness and heterogeneity. This is, for instance, the case with organizations consisting of... Sample PDF
Modelling Interactions via Commitments and Expectations
Chapter 12
Gita Sukthankar, Katia Sycara, Joseph A. Giampapa, Christopher Burnett
This chapter discusses the problem of agent aiding of ad-hoc, decentralized human teams so as to improve team performance on time-stressed group... Sample PDF
Communications for Agent-Based Human Team Support
Chapter 13
Bob van der Vecht, Frank Dignum, John-Jules Ch. Meyer
This chapter discusses how autonomous agents can adopt organizational rules into their reasoning process. Agents in an organization need to... Sample PDF
Autonomous Agents Adopting Organizational Rules
Chapter 14
Nicoletta Fornara, Marco Colombetti
The specification of open interaction systems is widely recognized to be a crucial issue, which involves the problem of finding a standard way of... Sample PDF
Specifying Artificial Institutions in the Event Calculus
Chapter 15
Francesco Viganò, Marco Colombetti
Institutions have been proposed to explicitly represent norms in open multi-agent systems, where agents may not follow them and which therefore... Sample PDF
Verifying Organizations Regulated by Institutions
Chapter 16
Mehdi Dastani, Nick A.M. Tinnemeier, John-Jules Ch. Meyer
Multi-agent systems are viewed as consisting of individual agents whose behaviors are regulated by an organizational artifact. This chapter presents... Sample PDF
A Programming Language for Normative Multi-Agent Systems
Chapter 17
Antônio Carlos da Rocha Costa, Graçaliz Pereira Dimuro
This chapter presents the Population-Organization model, a formal tool for studying the organization of open multi-agent systems and its functional... Sample PDF
A Minimal Dynamical MAS Organization Model
Chapter 18
Shaheen Fatima, Michael Wooldridge
This chapter presents an adaptive organizational policy for multi-agent systems called TRACE. TRACE allows a collection of multi-agent organizations... Sample PDF
A Framework for Dynamic Agent Organizations
Chapter 19
Alexander Artikis, Dimosthenis Kaponis, Jeremy Pitt
We have been developing a framework for executable specification of norm-governed multi-agent systems. In this framework, specification is a... Sample PDF
Dynamic Specifications for Norm-Governed Systems
Chapter 20
Marco Lamieri, Diana Mangalagiu
In this chapter we present a model of organization aimed to understand the effect of formal and informal structures on the organization’s... Sample PDF
Interactions Between Formal and Informal Organizational Networks
Chapter 21
Steven Okamoto, Katia Sycara, Paul Scerri
Intelligent software personal assistants are an active research area with the potential to revolutionize the way that human organizations operate... Sample PDF
Personal Assistants for Human Organizations
Chapter 22
Sachin Kamboj, Keith S. Decker
This chapter presents an approach to organizational-self design (OSD), a method of designing organizations at run-time in which the agents are... Sample PDF
Organizational Self-Design in Worth-Oriented Domains
Chapter 23
Olivier Bonnet-Torrès, Catherine Tessier
This chapter focuses on a Petri Net-based model for team organization and monitoring. The applications considered are missions performed by several... Sample PDF
A Formal Petri Net Based Model for Team Monitoring
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