Peter Bøgh Andersen
Department of Information and Media Studies, University of Aarhus
Helsingforsgade 14, 8200 Aarhus N, Denmark
Keywords: Activities, business processes, mobile computing, context-aware computing, semantic roles, semiotics.
Abstract: Mobile and context-aware technology enables new activity-centred ways of using digital technology that
require systematic methods for representing actions and activities computationally. The paper uses findings
from ethnography, linguistics and philosophy to paint a generic portrait of activities, and suggests ways of
representing it in an object-oriented framework. The paper makes a sharp distinction between the represen-
tation and the represented. The representations are not activities, they only represent them.
This paper discusses the problem of representing
activities by means of computational media.
It is motivated by a new emerging use of tech-
nology, enabled by mobile and context-aware tech-
nology. From a situation centred on documents and
applications used from a stationary device, we are
moving into a dynamic situation where many docu-
ments and services are used intermittently in the
same activity, where activities are intertwined, and
where use of computers no longer takes place at a
certain place, but follows our daily activities as we
move around in the world (Bardram 2006). The fo-
cus is shifting from documents and applications to
the activities in which they are used.
Bardram (2006) suggests the name activity-
based computing to denote an architecture where
activities are the fundamental building blocks and
documents and services can be requested as needed
from the resources that happen to be present in the
A similar argument is made in Kristensen (2002,
2003). He criticizes object-centric methods and ad-
vocates the association as a good tool for represent-
ing the new kind of computer use. Associations al-
low dynamic patterns of cooperation and specify the
roles its participants may play. The notion of roles
recurs in Moran (2005) that sketches an architecture
for activity-based software.
Whereas Bardram mainly represents his activity
concept through software architecture, Kristensen
views associations as a first class citizen that moti-
vates new programming language concepts and ex-
plicit formalisms.
In this paper I address the question of how ac-
tivities can be represented computationally: 1. what
is to be represented, i.e. what are the characteristics
of activities, and 2. how may the digital representa-
tion look like. To answer the first question, we
should listen to ethnographers, sociologists, psy-
chologists, and linguists, whereas the second ques-
tion belongs to computer science.
Since it is a question of devising signs of some-
thing, I shall base myself on semiotics. The repre-
sentamen of the sign (in the following: representa-
tion) is a computational representation that can be
executed on a computer, its object is activities in
some problem domain, and its interpretant consist in
using these representations for conducting everyday
activities, guided by rules of interpretation.
Semiotics reminds us that the representation is
not identical to its object. Although the two can be
related through similarily (icons), they can also be
held together through causal relations (indexes, e.g.
via sensors and actuators), and they can in fact be
totally unrelated except via conventions (symbols).
Computer science has a strong tendency for pre-
ferring icons – there must be some kind of similarity
between the computational model and its object. In
the past, this has lead to an (often criticised) export
of good concepts for understanding the behaviour of
information systems to also cover an understanding
of the object referred to by the systems. For exam-
ple, since the class-diagrams or state-machines of
the Unified Modelling Language are excellent for
understanding the structure and behaviour of infor-
mation systems, they are also assumed to be good
Bøgh Andersen P. (2007).
In Proceedings of the Ninth International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems - ISAS, pages 95-104
DOI: 10.5220/0002347600950104
for understanding the part of the world represented
by the systems.
This has created conflicts between domain ex-
perts and computer scientists: domain experts wrin-
kle their nose at the simplistic nature of the compu-
tational representations, whereas computer scientists
quickly loose interest in the subtle distinctions of the
domain experts.
If we realize that the representation needs not to
be similar to the represented, the situation becomes
more tractable. There is one set of requirements that
should be fulfilled by the computational representa-
tion. Apart from being useful for representing their
object, given a suitable set of conventions, they must
connect to current programming wisdom, since oth-
erwise no system would be produced in the end.
Another set of requirements are valid for de-
scriptions of the object: they must account for what
is currently known about the object and preferably in
the simplest possible way.
The task is now to make a representation that is
in fact programmable and which, given a suitable set
of rules of interpretation, will be accepted as repre-
senting its object by its users.
Therefore: reproaching the programmer for
working with a simplistic view on human activities
is just as absurd as reproaching the filmmaker for
viewing reality as consisting of cuts, sequences, and
scenes, in spite of the fact that the film is accepted
by the audience as an exciting thriller. In both cases,
the acceptability of the product is filtered through
the users’ willing suspension of disbelief.
In the rest of the paper, the object – human ac-
tivities – is mainly described based on linguistic
evidence. The reason for this is that language is our
main empirical access to the way activities are seg-
mented and classified. When a field-work is started,
the events form a confusing flow where patterns and
boundaries are hard to see. The only method of
bringing order in the confusion is to ask people to
describe what they do and why.
If we want to capture the generic recurrent fea-
tures of activities, the best evidence is the grammati-
calized features of language, such as case inflexion,
word order, affixes, tenses, etc. The reason is that
these features mark distinctions that have been used
frequently during a long time. Therefore they proba-
bly represent basic distinctions in our understanding
of reality.
As for the computational representations, I shall
use two popular representations from the UML stan-
dard, namely class diagrams and state-machines.
The following preliminary requirements con-
cerning the nature of activities are based on field-
work projects in the maritime domain and hospitals
(Andersen 2001, 2004a, 2006, Bardram & Bossen
2005, Bødker & Andersen 2005).
Activities must encompass both material and
communicative actions, since they are intermingled
in practice. They must deal explicitly with errors
and failure of equipment, and provide countermea-
sures for such failures. Many activities contain stan-
dard countermeasures against past accidents. For
example, all pedestrians will look to the right and
left for approaching cars before crossing a road (see
also Andersen 2001 for a similar analysis of mari-
time manoeuvres).
Actors must be able to suspend and resume ac-
tivities, and cooperative activities with several peo-
ple involved must be possible. Most activities are
performed simultaneously with and intertwined with
other activities.
Activities must contain roles. In both reference
domains, there are formal modal hierarchies of roles
requiring particular abilities, knowledge, intentions,
rights and obligations. For example, the helmsman
must be able to turn the wheel but has no right to
determine the course, and certain physical abilities
(hearing, sight) are required to work on a ship in the
first place. In the hospital, a doctor must be present
when resuscitating cardiac arrests, nurses are not
allowed to do it alone.
The rest of the paper elaborates these character-
istics using findings from linguistics, psychology,
and philosophy.
This section presents a selective overview of re-
search into the structure of actions and activities.
2.1 Roles
2.1.1 The Object of the Computational Rep-
Activity theory teaches us (Vygotsky 1962) that hu-
man actions are composed of (at least) three differ-
ent elements that play very different roles: the sub-
ject intending the action, the object towards which
the action is directed, and the mediator that mediates
between subject and object. Linguistics adds a larger
number of roles to these three, and connects the role
to specific process types (on the relationship be-
tween semiotics and activity theory, see Bødker &
Andersen 2005).
Roles in linguistics are called thematic or seman-
tic roles and denote relations between a process and
its participants. The theory (e.g. Fillmore 1968,
1977) claims that
ICEIS 2007 - International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems
there are a limited number of thematic roles
(normally between ten and twenty),
each process type can be characterized by requir-
ing a small number of obligatory roles, and
there are important regularities in the way roles
are expressed in sentences. Specifically, roles are
systematically marked by case-inflexion, prepo-
sitions and/or word order.
According to M. A. K. Halliday, the founder of
functional-systemic linguistics, the rough rules relat-
ing object to representations such as Birds are flying
in the air are: the process is expressed by means of
the verbal group (are flying), the participants by
nominal groups (birds), and circumstances by ad-
verbial groups or prepositional phrases (in the sky).
Halliday 1994 presents a list of a dozen process
types, each characterized by a specific frame of
roles. A more traditional list of roles is given by Ju-
rafsky & Martin 2000. Table 1 shows an adapted
version. I have illustrated the table with authentic
examples from real life.
The notion of roles is rather common in information
systems research. Consider for example the follow-
ing definition of workpractice:
A workpractice means that some actors make
something in favour of some actors, and some-
times against some actors; this acting is initiated
by assignments from some actors, and is per-
formed at some time and place and in some
manner, and is based on material, immaterial and
financial conditions of transactional and infra-
structural character and a workpractice capability
which is established and can continuously be
changed. Goldkuhl & Röstlinger 2006: 53.
Here we meet roles like Agent (‘actor’), Beneficiary
(‘in favor of some actors’), Theme (‘something’),
Time, Place (‘some time and place’) and Manner
(‘in some manner’). Parunak 1995 uses roles as a
tool for specifying agents, the ORM database meth-
odology is based on explicit use of roles (Halpin,
1996, 1998), and Sowa 2000 uses it in his concep-
tual graphs.
In activities as well as and their linguistic repre-
sentations, there are restrictions as to which partici-
pants can fill which roles. For example, abstract
concepts liken sincerity cannot be the grammatical
subject of predicates like “smile” or “have colour”,
nor is the 2nd officer allowed to plan the voyage of
the ship. In fact, the role concept itself implies that
the holder of a role has certain rights and obligations
and must possess certain abilities.
Table 1: A list of thematic roles. Authentic examples from
the maritime domain.
Role Definition and examples
Agent The participant initiating and controlling
an event: Can we berth her without a
As she goes full speed at shallow water,
then she creates a water wave
The participant that senses an event:
Maybe we can see the ‘Gudrun’ from
Theme The participant most directly affected by
an event: Can we berth her without a
Material The participant that changes identity in
an event: Isn’t that the only place where
we get a copy of those receipts?
Result The final identity of the material: We
make a three sixty (manoeuvre)
Content An event or a state of affairs: I said to
him that as soon as you were finished
steering, you would come down so that
we could get it in
Instrument The mediator of an event: Can we berth
her without a tug?
Addressee The intended recipient of a communica-
tive action: A, have you talked to the
The participant that benefits from an
event: And Sir have you received our
pilot chart we have it ready for you here
The participant playing a role similar to
the Agent: Is there a chance that he will
come with the helicopter, over there, the
Source The start location of the Theme of a
transfer event: I really thought he came
from Rotterdam
The end location of the Theme of a trans-
fer event: ‘Gudrun’ must sail before we
can get in.
Purpose The intention of the Agent of the event:
Well, down to about 7.5 meters draught,
you need that in order to run properly
with the top of the tunnel.
Time The time of the event: he will not sail
until two o’clock.
Location The place of the event: we are still lying
here waiting
Manner The manner in which the event is per-
formed: Shall we start turning slowly
In addition, there may be conflicts between these
modalities. According to Ryan 1991, activities in
narratives must contain conflicts between two or
more of the following modalities: knowledge, inten-
tion, obligation, and desires, and between these and
the actual world, in order for them to be tellable. In
melodramas the hero is for example torn between
obligations and desires.
But conflicts are also important in non-fiction for
diagnosing organisational conflicts: a secretary is
obliged to finish a report at a certain time, but is
unable to do so because the information was not
delivered to her.
In the technical domain, displays in process con-
trol have the important purpose of telling the opera-
tor when components are no longer able to function
in the way they ought to according to their specifica-
Business processes too can be characterised by
the modalities of ability and obligation. In the work-
practice definition above, assignments refer to obli-
gations and capability to ability.
Business transactions (Haraldson & Lind 2006)
can in fact be analysed as the creation, fulfilment
and removal of obligations: the supplier sends a quo-
tation to the customer and they agree on the transac-
tion, meaning that the supplier is obligated to deliver
the product and the customer obligated to pay the
agreed price. Then the goods are delivered, the cus-
tomer sign for the product, thereby removing the
supplier’s obligations, sends the money, and re-
ceives a receipt that frees the customer from his ob-
ligation to further payments. The Normbase system
in Liu 2000 represents such processes.
To sum up: there is good empirical reason to
posit dynamic bindings between participants and
roles consisting of obligations, rights, desires and
2.1.2 The Computational Representation
The basic computational entity (Figure 1) in the sys-
tem is simply one that has a name, an identity, a set
of sensors and actuators, and belongs to one or more
categories. Sensors and actuators are motivated by
our emphasis on context aware technology. The
categories are necessary, since there are restrictions
on who can fill which roles. Entities have two sub-
classes, things and processes. Processes are charac-
teristic in being associated with one or more roles
that bind other entities to the process. A role is rep-
resented by a role-name, plus a binding that contains
a number of dimensions representing the partici-
pant’s modal relations to the activity. A possible
representation is depicted in Figure 1. Note that
processes as well as things can participate in proc-
esses. For example, the participants of the Purpose
and Content roles may be processes, as illustrated in
Table 1. Note that a participant can be bound to
more roles, and that one role may have more partici-
pants bound to it. The methods add and remove par-
ticipant allow us to manipulate participants during
the execution of the activity.
Figure 1: Basic relationships between Things, Processes,
Roles and role Bindings.
2.2 Process Types
Process types are useful when we want to create an
overview of activities in a certain domain.
Bækgård 2006 proposed five general action
types for information systems and in the domain of
process control, Lind 1994 proposed a framework,
Multilevel Flow Modelling, for modelling mass and
energy flows in process plants, and suggested six
basic process types involving mass or energy:
Sources provide it, transports transport it, barriers
block transports, storages store it, balances distribute
it, and sinks consume it.
2.2.1 The Object of the Computational
But there is evidence that humans in general system-
atically distinguish between a limited number of
process types. In cognitive linguistics these are
called image schemata (Talmy 1988, Johnson 1992:
Table 2: Vendler’s four verb types.
Static Telic Punctual
Activity - - -
- + -
Achievement - + +
State + - -
Before cognitive linguistics, Zeno Vendler (1957,
1967) classified verb meanings according to the dy-
namic structure of their referents. According to him,
there are four major types of processes, namely Ac-
tivities (play football – Vendler’s activity should not
ICEIS 2007 - International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems
be confused with activity in activity theory), Accom-
plishments (drive to the parking lot), Achievements
(win a race; in computer science we talk about state
changes) and States (sleep, be a plumber). The proc-
esses differ in the terms of three oppositions:
static/dynamic, telic/non-telic, and punctual/non-
punctual (Van Valin & LaPolla, 1997), as shown in
Table 2.
In activities an action is repeated an indefinite
number of times. In accomplishments there is also
action but it stops when a certain limit has been
reached, e.g. when I have arrived at the parking lot.
Achievements denote a momentary state-change,
and state terms denote the continuation of a state of
affairs. Vendler proves the linguistic existence of
these types by showing that grammatical features,
such as ing-forms and adverbials of time and dura-
tion, and, I may add, in Scandinavian languages, the
auxiliary of the past participle, depend upon them.
In fact, the observation is much older; the idea
that language structures processes into a few types,
was described more than a hundred years ago under
the heading of Aktionsart (e.g. Noreen 1903-1923).
Suffixes and prefixes are frequent markers of Ak-
tionsart: -en as in blacken (ingressives), -de as in
decolourize (cessatives), as well as aspectual verbs
like begin, keep, stop (keep running, durative).
Lind (1994) proposes an analysis of basic proc-
esses in industrial process control that is reminiscent
of the old Aktionsart-theory, but was in fact inspired
by Von Wright’s behavior analysis for defining four
basic kinds of actions (Table 3).
2.2.2 The Computational Representation
In the following Vendler’s analysis is used to de-
scribe the dynamic morphology of processes,
whereas Lind’s classification is used to classify the
effect of one action on another. Processes are di-
vided into four subprocesses representing Vendler’s
four classes (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Representation of Vendler’s four process types.
The class of terminatives – accomplishments and
achievements/state-changes – share the feature of
having success criteria that define when the process
has ended with success. Accomplishments and ac-
tivities have other processes as components (Figure
2). All classes can be in an active or suspended state
(Figure 3), and each class is differentiated by the
state-changes it undergoes inside its active state.
Figure 3: The shared structure of all processes.
Accomplishments and states are exemplified in Fig-
ures 4 and 5.
Table 3: Four basic control processes. T = change, d = doing, acting. Condition: what happens if no action is taken.
Condition Explanation Action Explanation Result of action Explanation
pT¬p p exists but vanishes unless maintained d(pTp) p is maintained pTp p remains
¬pT¬p p does not exist and does not happen
unless produced
d(¬pT p) p is produced ¬pTp p happens
pTp p exists and remains unless destroyed d(pT¬p) p is destroyed pT¬p p vanishes
¬pTp p does not exist but happens unless sup-
d(¬pT¬p) p is suppressed ¬pT¬p p remains ab-
Figure 4: The internal structure of the active state of ac-
not executable
Figure 5: The internal structure of the active state of states.
Both can shift between a disabled state and an executing
state when they receive the messages executable/not ex-
ecutable from their participants (Section 3). For example,
the 10 cm radar announces to the officer that it has be-
come less able to participate in steering the ship; the steer-
ing activity is therefore not optimally executable before
the 10 cm radar is replaced by its 4 cm colleague. Thus,
participants can desert from and become enrolled in the
activity at execution time as part of normal operating pro-
The accomplishment is meant to represent a
goal-directed action performed by an Agent. When
the Agent executes an accomplishment, he executes
the processes represented by its components; the
process ends if it receives the messages success or
failure defined by the success criteria. If the process
is in the disabled state, the Agent can try to find
remedies for repairing the defects.
A state is only defined by the effects it has on
other processes, both in its executing and disabled
state. It has no defined ending point, and does not
contain component actions. Examples: a patient may
be conscious which enables a certain set of behav-
iors (talking, eating, etc.), or he may be in a coma,
which disables these behaviors. A ship may be mov-
ing, which enables steering, or it may lie still, which
disables steering.
Vendler’s activity is represented as a state with
component actions added. For example, a running
pump may be driven by a combustion engine that
performs an activity where pistons move back and
forth regularly. But note that we are talking about
representations: a real process may be represented
by a state or an activity, depending upon the aspects
we are focusing on. If we disregard the movements
of the piston and are only interesting in the flow
produced by the pump, we would represent it as a
state, not an activity.
Vendler’s achievement is an accomplishment
with component processes removed. Whereas ac-
complishments have duration – they repeatedly per-
form their component actions – achievements are
3.1 The Object of the Computational
We now need to specify what failure and effect
means. We propose the following definitions:
An action executes if and only if.
1. All participants are able to fulfil their roles to
some degree.
2. The Agent filler is strongly obligated and/or
strongly desires to fulfil his role.
This means that an action is disabled if one or more
participants are no longer able to fulfil their roles,
and/or the Agent is no longer obligated or no longer
desires to fulfil his role. In accordance with these
definitions, the effect of actions are defined as
3. a change of the participants’ role-bindings to
other actions, possibly to newly generated ac-
Note the phrase to some degree in (1). It is not re-
quired that all participants perform faultlessly, since
in this case, we would be blind to the parts of reality
that is full of degraded pumps, corroded pipelines,
inattentive operators, and worn tools. This would be
inappropriate if we used the theory to design MIMIC
diagrams for operators of process plants, since a
ICEIS 2007 - International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems
main purpose of such diagrams is to alert the opera-
tor of suboptimal equipment.
In the definitions so far, there is nothing hinder-
ing machines in participating as Agents in activities,
quite in line with Actor Network Theory. This does
not imply that humans and non-humans are equally
qualified as Agents in all activities. A clock is per-
fectly suited for being an Agent in the physical proc-
ess The clock ticks (which is also the way language
treats it), but is absolutely unqualified to participate
in the business process the clock sends a quote to its
customer. As ANT rightly claims, agency is a func-
tion relating a participant to an network, not an in-
herent property of a participant.
3.1.1 Effects
Lind’s four process control types can now be rede-
fined as shown in Table 4.
The difference between these material actions and
communicative actions is that material actions influ-
ence the ability of participants, whereas communica-
tive actions influence their desires, rights and obliga-
Thus, A requesting B to do C presupposes that B
would not have done it by himself, and has the in-
tended effect that B assumes an obligation to do C
(cf. Searle 1994: 65 ff: A attempts to get B to do C);
in other words: the request has the intended effect to
increase the role-binding associating A to the role of
Agent in the action C. It is thus an example of pro-
duce, whereas the act of reminding B to do C is a
case of maintenance. Communicatively destroying
something is exemplified by a moderator removing a
topic from the agenda, and suppressing is to prevent
embarrassing topics from popping up.
Since communicative actions involve abilities,
instrumental actions can influence communicative
ones. For example, a VHF-radio is not able to par-
ticipate in the communication “The captain ordered
the first officer to let the lines go on the VHF”,
unless the captain is close to the VHF. This can be
achieved by the captain taking hold of it. Con-
versely, the first officer is not entitled to participate
in the instrumental action of letting the lines go be-
fore ordered by the captain.
Above I have assumed that machines as well as
humans can fill the Agent role; taken literally this
means that to switch on the ignition is to obligate the
Figure 6: The door-opener as part of an activity system. Dest = destination. Ag = agent. Path = path.
Table 4: Four types of effects.
Process Definition
D maintains P P is executing and D further increases the role-bindings between an able participant and P. Example:
D = the captain turns the wheel, P = the captain steers the course by means of the rudder. The rud-
der’s ability to participate in keeping the course is increased to counteract the effect of wide-wind.
D produces P P is disabled and D increases the role-bindings between a defect participant and P. Example: D = the
chief starts the engine, P = the engine produces rotational energy. The engine’s ability to function as
the Agent in energy production is increased.
D destroys P P is executing and D decreases the role-bindings between an able participant and P. Example: D =
turning off the fuel supply, P = an engine is running by means of fuel. The fuel is disabled to func-
tion as an instrument for the process.
D suppresses P P is disabled and D further decreases the role-bindings between a defect participant and P. Example:
D = a cooler moves water through the walls of a burner, P = the burner melts its walls. The walls’
ability to participate in the melting process is further decreased.
machine or make it strongly desire to run. This is
clearly not a good description of how machines be-
have. Here is a better solution.
The point of departure is that all modal dimen-
sions are organized in a weak and a strong operator.
In classical modal logic, they are called N = neces-
sity and M = Möglichkeit. They are related as shown
in (4).
N P = ¬ M ¬P
When we describe human actions, we need to distin-
guish between deontic (obligations) and axiological
(desires) variants.
obligated P = ¬ allowed ¬P
desire P = ¬ inclined ¬P
The reason is that for humans to be obligated to do
something can be quite different from desiring it, so
two different modalities are clearly necessary here –
an inner and an outer necessity that may conflict.
However, for machines, the two are merged into
one, so here ‘desires’ and ‘is obliged to’ are syn-
onymous with ‘is forced to’ (7). The difference be-
tween human and machine agents is thus that hu-
mans are bound to activities by a variety of modal
ties which coalesce into one in machines.
forced P = ¬able ¬P
(7) can be found in descriptions of business proc-
esses where a process can trigger another process
(force it to execute) or it can enable it (Rittgen
In the following, I shall only use necessity
(forced to) and possibility (able to) where machines
are concerned.
The effects of action A on action B can be dia-
grammed as shown in Figure 6 that describes an
automatic door-opener. We draw an arrow from A to
B and annotate it with the modal change <Role
, change, dimension>, meaning that if someone
has participated successfully in action A as Role
his likelihood to participate in action B as Role
changed along the specified dimension. For exam-
ple, when a person walks towards the door, the door
participates as Destination in the action; this forces it
to participate as Agent in the opening action. When
it opens, it looses the ability to participate in open-
ing, but is enabled to participate in the action ‘heat
evaporates through the door’ and ‘persons pass
through the door’ in the role of Path.
Note that the actions are half-baked, as is the
case with most actions (Andersen 2004a, 2006). The
#door participant (# symbolizes an instantiated par-
ticipant) is filled in and fixed, but the person partici-
pant is only specified by its category. If a car tried to
participate, it would fail because it is of the wrong
category. The idea is that we seldom construct ac-
tivities from scratch because the environment al-
ready offers us half-baked actions to use.
Note also that the behaviour of the door-opener
is formulated as part of a network of actions involv-
ing humans and machines. The basic construct is an
activity comprising humans and machines, and the
machine is described as a participant in this activity
(see Bødker & Andersen 2005 for maritime exam-
ples of this analysis). This makes it possible to gen-
erate understandable descriptions of its behaviour
since it is described in terms of activities humans
participate in. In the concrete case of the door
opener, understandability presents no problem, but
ease of verbalization and visualization becomes an
advantage if we are faced with complicated danger-
ous machinery, such as nuclear power plants where
particularly abnormal situations present a problem.
3.1.2 A Classification of Modal Changes
Some types of modal changes are very frequent and
represent phenomena known from the literature.
Instrument. Suppose that my lawn-
mower fails to fill the Instrument role in I am mow-
ing the lawn with my lawn-mower. Then my focus
shifts from my lawn to my mower (on focus shifts,
see Bødker 1996), I repair the mower: <Instr
Theme>. When the mower is fixed, the reverse
process happens and the instrument’s ability to par-
ticipate in mowing is increased, <Theme
Source. Similarly, if I know
there is a flight connection from Copenhagen to
London, and I myself am located in Stockholm, then
travelling from Stockholm to Copenhagen will en-
able me to later catch the plan to London. In this
case, the Destination of the subordinate action is
identical to the Source of the super-ordinate action,
and participation in the subordinate action increases
the airport’s ability to participate in the super-
ordinate one: <Dest
Source +abil>. This modal
change underlies flow-diagrams, such as the ones in
Lind 1994.
Agent. A third example of role-
shifts is in automatic systems. They often consist of
components with responsibilities that can be de-
scribed by means of roles. A higher-level component
uses a lower-level component as Instrument and
delegates certain tasks to it in which it is forced to
act as the Agent: <Instr
Agent +nec>. For exam-
ple, the autopilot maintains the course by means of
the rudder servo system and delegates the task of
maintaining the angle of the rudder to the servo sys-
tem (Bødker & Andersen 2005).
ICEIS 2007 - International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems
Agent. Transfer of control where
A orders B to do C causes B does C to execute can
be described as the role-shift <Addressee
+obl > where the addressee of the first action is ob-
ligated to become the Agent of the second one.
Bækgård 2006 suggests that such control patterns
should be among the basic building blocks in infor-
mation systems.
In addition to modal changes, we also regularly
meet participant changes. For example, Automation
Operator, where automation replaces a human
operator in the role af Agent.
3.2 The Computational Representation
Digitally, the schema <Role
, change, di-
mension> relating action A and B can be described
by an Effect object that specifies the modal changes
and is associated to the two role objects, Role
, that are in turn associated to A and B (cf. Fig-
ure 1).
In principle, all participants get qualified by par-
ticipating in other processes, but what about time
and place? The action I board the train at the plat-
form now requires that the train and I are located at
the platform of course, but the action can still not
execute at 4 pm if the timetable says 5 pm. Time can
be treated just as the other participants, since the
now too participates in a process, namely the passing
of the time, which is measured by the clock sensor.
Only when the clock points to 5 pm, is the now able
to participate in the train departure.
In many activities, participants are only quali-
fied if they are assembled at the same location. This
can be measured by location aware technology.
Figure 7: Classes representing the human operator and an
automatic system.
The shift Automation
Operator can be supported
computationally as shown in Figure 7. We make the
Operator a subclass of Thing that inherits sensors
and actuators. The Operator class is for manual op-
eration, so it adds displays and controls that let hu-
mans use sensors and actuators. Automation is a
subclass of Operator and inherits the displays and
controls, but adds methods for planning and execu-
tion. The switch automation
operator can now be
represented as exchanges of instances of the Auto-
mation class and the Operator class. The benefits of
letting Automation inherit the displays and controls
of the Operator class is that the human can see what
the automation is doing, and is able to override the
automation by using the controls. The former allows
the operator to understand what the automatic sys-
tem does (Bødker & Andersen 2005) and the latter is
used in cars and ships with automatic cruise control
to allow manual intervention for safety reasons.
Motivated by new activity-centric uses of IT, I have
drawn a generic sketch of activities and suggested
ways of representing it computationally. An activity
is associated to one or more roles to which partici-
pants are bound by modal ties of various strengths.
Activities can be classified in a few morphological
types. They execute when all participants are able to
fulfil their roles and the Agent is sufficiently obli-
gated or motivated. The effect of executing an activ-
ity is to change the modal ties of its participants to
other activities. During execution participants can
desert and new participants enrol.
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