Ontology-based Knowledge Access for Higher Education and Research Sector

OKHAERS is an Innovation project funded by the European Commission under the program Horizont 2020 INNOSUP-02-2016 “European SME innovation Associate - pilot”

SIRIS Academic S.L. is a consultancy company specialized in higher education, innovation and research (HER&I). Amongst its customers are higher education and research Institutions, public policy-makers (e.g. ministries or regional governments) and private and public actors of innovation (e.g. associations, foundations, etc.). SIRIS’s strategy consultancy services are based on implicit expertise and a combination of qualitative and quantitative analysis.

In this context, SIRIS wanted to improve the management and use of the knowledge accumulated on the basis of its rich experience working on the domain, in order to boost and expand the consultancy forces.

OKHAERS is an innovation project involving the recruitment of an PhD in Knowledge Representation and Reasoning (the so-called Innovation Associate) in order to address the aforementioned issues.

The project proposes to extend UNiCS, the existing ontology-based data access platform developed by SIRIS, in order to:

  • Organize the company knowledge
  • Support the cumulative growing of company’s expertise in term strategy and policy definition.
  • Facilitate the accessing and retrieving of this knowledge

In the project, the innovation associate is expected to a) get an in-depth knowledge of the current state of SIRIS’s knowledge and to generate ideas of knowledge management tools; b) implement a first prototype and get users feedback; c) set up a plan to scale up the prototype at the level of the company.

The project has been development through several phases:  


The first phase of the project has been focused on:

  1. getting a general understanding on the company activities and methodology
  2. performing a diagnosis on the knowledge management at SIRIS
  3. getting some general recommendations to capture, manage and deliver the contents (internal and external documents) within the company
  4. setting up a solution proposal and the correspondent execution plan.


Phase 2

During this phase, the focus has been made on the development of an ontology-based tool to support strategies and policies definition on research, higher education and innovation. The following activities have been done


  1. Setting up a new architecture for the UNiCS ontology to resolve some identified modeling preconditions. The work done on UNiCS has encompassed two aspects: 1) a modular design of the ontology, 2) semantic alignments with several standards.
  2. Writing two papers with the main contributions and discussions addresses during the aforementioned activity.
  3. Conceptualization of strategies and policies definition. The result of this task is a knowledge model that links institutional objectives and profiles with policy instruments.
  4. Specification and implementation of the ontology – called CONSTRAINS –  for two selected study cases: “Research strategies” and “Internationalisation”.


Phase 3

The final phase of the project has involved the development of a plan to scale-up the solution, both to extend the research and innovation strategies and policies coverage of the platform, and to adapt the approach to other use cases of policy making and monitoring.

The project has reached several results:

  • In the first phase of the project, the knowledge management analysis and diagnosis has empowered a reflection on content management and knowledge exploitation opportunities in the company.
  • In the second phase, the work done on the definition of the new UNiCS architecture has some relevant added values not just on the design of the developed system but also throughout the rest of the platform. Amongst others, the new architecture permits:
      • Systematize the integration of new datasets.
      • Bring a way to manage the grown of the ontology.
      • Facilitate the maintenance of the knowledge base.
      • Make the knowledge model more consistent and understandable.
      • Ease the interoperability with other systems.

It’s important to stress that the UNiCS ontology is an open source solution. Therefore, the new features developed will also boost a better use of the tool outside the company. In addition and beyond setting a robust architecture for UNiCS, the work done in this phase provides a set of correspondences that permit to map concepts between well-known domain standards for data representation. This work has two main impacts: 1) To improve the UNiCS capacity to integrate and to interoperate with more datasets. 2) The correspondences are a valuable result by themselves (independently of the implementation of an OBDA platform) as these provide to the HER&I community a tool to translate information between different representation schemes and contexts.


  • In a third phase, the work has been focused on the development of the CONSTRAINS ontology. It is a novel UNiCS module that stores and manages from general recommendations and good practices to specific initiatives and policies on higher education, research and innovation. The tool offers a systematic way to retrieve valuable insights about key aspects that influence the adoption of a strategy. For instances, users can ask question such as “What are the recommended instruments that a Research-intensive university can use to get Prestige?” or “What are the key indicators of performance affected by a given set of instruments?

The conceptual model behind CONSTRAINS has been developed on the basis of a flexible scheme, thus supporting different kinds of decision-making approaches and applications.

In addition, and beside the software functionalities, the modelling process of CONSTRAINS has configured a mean to reflect on the organization of the knowledge and to systematize the methodology around strategy consultancy. The developed approach on modelling and formalising domain knowledge can configures a business product itself whose market is being explored by the company.

  • MOSCA, A., RODA, F., & RULL, G. (2018, September). The Ontology for Research and Innovation Policy Making. In Formal Ontology in Information Systems: Proceedings of the 10th International Conference (FOIS 2018) (Vol. 306, p. 200). IOS Press.
  • Gimenez, X., Mosca, A., Roda, F., Rondelli, B., & Rull, G.  (2018, September). UNiCS: The open data platform for Research and Innovation. In Proceedings of the Posters and Demos Track of the 14th International Conference on Semantic Systems (SEMANTiCS2018).



Fernando Roda

Innovation Associate

Phd in Computer Science


Solange Chavel

Project Supervisor

Strategy consultant specialized in higher education and research.


Alessandro Mosca

Project Supervisor

Phd in Compuer Science. Expert in Knowledge representation, Non-classical Modal Logics and formal Ontologies.