Representing defining and using ability competency and similar concepts

Requirements and philosophy

Ability, claims to ability, requirements for ability

Definitions of ability, competency, or similar concepts exist at all levels. (As in the other pages, the term "ability" will here be used to cover all these related concepts.) A job advert, or person specification, may state a requirement for ability in "PHP programming", or it may require something more specific, perhaps defined in terms of a number of years experience in a certain kind of setting. For some software skills, there are specific qualifications that testify to the level of the ability aquired.

Equally, on my CV, I may state that I am a PHP programmer, or I have ability in writing PHP. Or I may state that I have experience of writing PHP code in a certain kind of commercial context. (My actual abilities here are very limited.)

As no person's ability is exactly the same as another person's ability, any common ability definition will necessarily fall short of defining the particular abilities that you or I actually have. Equally, what is really needed to perform a role successfully may be approximated by a certain defined ability, but in reality there will always be room to specify more precisely the nature of the ability required, the context in which it is to be practised, etc.

Because of this, logically there is always room for textual descriptions, on the one side, of a specific claim of an ability, and on the other side, of a specific description of a role requirement. Broadly speaking, the more vague the definition of the ability, the more scope there will be to add detail to a textual description. If I claim just "ability in PHP programming", there is a great deal left to say about the detail. If I claim that I fulfil a more specific ability definition, there will be correspondingly less I need to say to clarify that.

On the other side, the less clear the common definition of a requirement, the more scope, and need, there is for what is required for a position to be spelled out more clearly in the description.

Requirements of definitions of ability

Both impersonal general definitions, and specific claims, are or can be used for:

Impersonal definitions, however may work where specific claims will not, for:

The more separate unrelated definitions there are, the more difficult it will be to meet that last set of requirements.

Requirements for relating definitions

In the real world, where ability definitions are numerous and splintered, as much matching and other automatic processing as possible needs to be enabled through representing relationships between ability concepts. Representing practical equivalence is clearly going to be helpful, as this will broaden the scope of any matching process. The other relationship that is most likely to be important is perhaps one stating that one ability (as claimed) satisfies another ability (in a requirement for a position), when they are not practically equivalent.

Background assumptions

These propositions are based on the assumption that there is potential value in representing information about people's abilities in a way that facilitates the automatic processing and matching of that information, going beyond the practice common up to now in selection and recruitment that processing is generally done through people actually reading text. It assumes it is not sufficient either to process unstructured text, in a kind of data mining approach, or to work with categories predefined by particular system owners (e.g. on-line recruitment service providers) that are not explicitly cross-referenced.

The domains that rely, in one way or another, on information about abilities are first and foremost educational institutions of all kinds, where people build up many abilities, and use other as part of the educational process; and all of the world of work, where people are expected or required to use their abilities productively, and also naturally develop their abilities connected with the work they are doing.

Next: technicalities.