Center for Content and Knowledge Engineering (CCKE)

Information Science at the Institute of Information & Computing Sciences (ICS)

Computing Science in Utrecht has a more than 25-year tradition and is famous for its fundamental research in IT. The last decennium its focus shifted gradually towards more applied sciences in ICT. One of the consequences of this shift was the foundation of the scientific research and education in Information Science at the ICS in January 1999. The new multi-disciplinary group was formed by pulling together different domains and people from various faculties inside and outside Utrecht University. The vision behind this move was to enlarge the scope of the ICS in such a way that the Institute would be able to span nearly the full spectrum of ICT from applied to fundamental information and computing sciences.

The maiden year for the Information Science curriculum was the year 2000. Since 2002 the curriculum follows the European-style Bachelor/Master program guidelines. Currently we have a 3-year undergraduate program 'Information Science' that leads to a BSc in Information Science. The program offers both a major and a minor program in Information Science. Students that want to follow a 2-year international graduate program in 'Information Science' can choose from two master programs: Content and Knowledge Engineering (CKE) or Business Informatics (MBI). Both lead to a MSc in Information Science.

Information Science in Utrecht is a steadily developing area. Today Information Science consists of 3 groups covering the following knowledge domains:  Electronic Document Technology (EDT), Cognition & Communication (C&C) and Organization & Information (O&I). This part of the website focusses mainly on the research activities of Information Science in the first two groups and represents the research concentrated in the Center for Content and Knowledge Engineering (CCKE).


Two recent CCKE dissertations (oct 2006).
In october 2006 two CCKE PhD projects were finished:
Stacey Nagata successfully defended (12 oct) her dissertation "User Assistance for Multitasking with Interruptions on a Mobile Device". Stacey returned to the USA, and is now uability expert at Intel Company.
Also Ion Juvina successfully defended (19 oct) his dissertation "Development of a Cognitive Model for Navigating on the Web". More information: see 
Ion has now a post-doc position at the Psychology department at Carnegie Mellon University (USA).

Innovational Research Incentive (Veni) for CCKE researcher
Dr. Virginia Dignum has been awarded a three year grant (Veni) from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) to do research on the influence of organizational characteristics on the knowledge sharing and overall performance of a group. The project entitled "Supporting Knowledge Sharing" combines the development of simulation models and tools, based on multi-agent systems, with empirical studies using human groups in a controlled setting. The project has started in June 2006 and involves several Master students and a research assistant.

Free membership for students of SGML/XML Users Group Holland
We have a long lasting collaboration with the SGML/XML Users Group Holland. The Institute is a corporate member of the Users Group and recently the collaboration has resulted in a free membership for all our students. The membership allows free access to seminars, the yearly XML Holland conferences and the very informative periodical <!ELEMENT.
For more information see: Student membership

NWO-Casimir project at CCKE
Drs. Anita de Waard of the Advanced Technology Group (Elsevier), Elsevier and the Center for Content and Knowledge Engineering have been awarded a four year grant from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) to develop models and investigate tools for a new way of authoring scientific papers. The project is part of NWO's Casimir program. The project, titled "A Semantic Structure for Scientific Articles", was chosen after a lengthy and highly competitive review process. The grant will be awarded on December 20th by Dutch Ministers Van Der Hoeven (Education, Culture and Science) and Brinkhorst (Economic Affairs) at the NWO offices in The Hague. Anita's work will be jointly supervised by Dr. Marck Krellenstein (Elsevier) and Dr. Herre van Oostendorp (CCKE). The 4-year project starts january 2006.

CCKE Lecture in Fukuoka, Japan
On 22 October 2005, Dr. Virginia Dignum of the C&C group gave an invited talk entitled "Agent-Mediated Knowledge Management" at INAP2005 (the 16th International Conference on Applications of Declarative Programming and Knowledge Management) in Fukuoka, Japan. Abstract. Current developments in Knowledge Management (KM) concern the sharing and usage of knowledge in dynamic environments. The need for systems that both react to and anticipate the needs and expectations of users calls for flexible and adaptable development and implementation frameworks. These are exactly the characteristics that identify software agents and agent societies, which make natural the application of the agent paradigm in KM. This paper attempts to identify both the advantages of agents for KM, and the aspects of KM that can benefit most from this paradigm.

Dr. Frans Wiering (CCKE) has received a grant from the CATCH programme of the The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research for his 4-year WITCHCRAFT project. The aim of this project is to develop a fully-functional content-based retrieval system for folksong melodies stored as audio and notation. The system will be integrated in the Nederlandse Liederenbank ('Database of Dutch Songs') of the Meertens Instituut ( The grant allows us to hire a Postdoc, a PhD student and a scientific programmer to execute this project. More information can be found at:

June 2005 - CCKE at Carnegie Mellon University
Ion Juvina (CCKE PhD student) on the project "Developing a Cognitive Model of Navigating on the Web" has recently completed the prestigious Summer School on Computational Cognitive Modeling under supervision of Prof. John R. Anderson at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, USA.

Presentation of all IS research on our plenary meeting in april 2005 See the poster gallery, presentations etcetera

Just appeared:
"Creation, Use and Deployment of Digital Information". Recently a textbook on the domain of Information Science edited by staff members of CCKE has been published: Van Oostendorp, H., Breure, L, & Dillon, A. (Eds) Creation, Use and Deployment of Digital Information. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

See: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.Raison d'Etre

Why do Content and Knowledge Engineering?

The far-reaching digitalization of society provides the directive for research in information science. Information science is concerned with themes on the intersection of information and communication technology (ICT) on the one hand and the individual and society (in a broad sense) on the other hand. The accessibility of information has become a necessary condition for participating in economic, cultural and societal processes, both for individuals and for organizations. Digital networks literally span the world, making a large part of human communication independent of time and place. Information has developed to the most important production factor and as such more and more determines the functioning of individuals and the structure of organizations. All this has altered the relationships among companies and between companies and their customers drastically, affecting the contact between government and citizen as well.

This continuing computerization of society reveals ever more clearly that problems are often not inherent in the techniques but appear in their applications. As a consequence, it’s not only the computer experts and technicians that determine what conditions digital systems must satisfy, but also the users and the organizations in which they work. However, the issues involved are too complex to lend themselves merely to practical solutions. Not only does the usability of programs need to be improved, but the efficient and strategic use of the total of information sources and information technology need to be taken into account as well.

The Typical Approach of the CCKE

To be able to handle information successfully, the user must possess a fitting knowledge reference framework, consisting of concepts, rules and experiences. Increasingly, organizations are becoming aware that this knowledge can be systematically documented and internally shared. Knowledge engineering, in the sense of creating knowledge from data, documenting best practices and creating wide accessibility of specific expertise, is one of the most important strategies for competition and survival in a world market that seems to become less and less predictable. It is not surprising, then, that much use of ICT appears to be directly connected to forms of knowledge engineering.
Thus, a tight interconnection of information and knowledge is evolving, a development which Information Science in Utrecht has chosen as a point of departure. Both these aspects have been combined in the Center for Content and Knowledge Engineering (CCKE). Scientific research and teaching in the CCKE are focused on the formation of theory and development of methods aimed at solving problems surrounding the applicability and usability of ICT, thus forming the domain of applied computer science. Knowledge of and insight into computer science as well as the factors that play a role in application and use are combined here. Two areas of interest ensue:

The approach whereby such a life cycle is placed within a human context is typical for our information-science methodology.

Fig. 1: Life cycle of information in a human context.

The Intertwining of Knowledge Domains

The emphasis on two distinct but strongly related areas of interest highly determines the division of the research domain that resorts under the chairs within Information Science in Utrecht:

Life cycle of information:

Interaction and communication processes:

The CCKE and the chairs of Information Science are responsible for the development and implementation of two master programs Content and Knowledge Engineering and Business Informatics.

Positioning of Information Science

Positioning Information Science Utrecht Internationally 

Information science is being practiced in other countries under several different names and several different scientific headers. It is not always possible to draw the division lines precisely but, globally, there are three labels that, sometimes in combination, are adhered internationally to teaching and research that we consider information science:

The CCKE is therefore most closely allied to 'Information Science' and 'Information Management'. For example, its program closely mirrors that of the Berkeley School of Information Management & Systems, which highlights the organizational and societal application of ICT. This recognizability is also translated into international contacts. Regularly, people from our institute collaborate with research groups at different universities (The University of Melbourne, School of Information Systems,  the University of Texas, School of Library and Information Science; the University of Maryland, Dept. for Information Systems;  the University of Poitiers, Lab. for Language and Cognition; Laboratory of Applied Ontology, University of Trento; the University of Brighton). Furthermore, there is active participation in the European Union (EU) research circuit by means of research requests and expert assessment of research proposals concerning the sixth framework program of the EU. Last but not least, members of our Information Science group participate in the editorship of scientific journals in the areas of information science and organizational science (e.g., Interacting with Computers).

Positioning Information Science Utrecht within the Netherlands

By the mid eighties, computer science departments with a discipline-bound prefix, such as departments of medical computer science, law computer science etc. had proliferated in the Netherlands.To end this proliferation, in 1986, the Commission of Higher Education in Computer Science advocated the concept of 'Information Science' as an applied form of computer science. Ten years later in 'Geen toekomst zonder informatica: toekomstverkenning Informatica 1996-2005' (No future without computer science: an exploration of the future of Computer Science 1996-2005), the focal area of computer science had shifted to 'the creation and maintenance of information systems'. Information Science is situated within this focal area, specifically where the setup of information facilities in organizations and the translation of information needs to information systems is involved. The report finds that information science is part of computer science insofar as the theories, methodology and techniques used have a generic character and are not a priori bound to a specific domain of application. A remarkable shift. The very rapid computerization of society and the concurrently advancing insight that ICT issues deserve broad scientific study have strengthened the symbiosis between computer- and information science. Several subjects from the 'top list' of NOAG-i are directly situated within the focal area of the CCKE as indicated above:

Following the vision of the complete life cycle of information, information science in Utrecht is also studied from the perspective of 'use' and the 'user': knowledge about properties of human functioning (perception, memory, reasoning etc.) is being used to (re-)present information, design systems and test developed technical alternatives as to their usability for the end-user. As far as the human context, the CCKE is researching the consequences of ICT for individuals, organizations and society in general, and, vice versa, the demands that human beings and organizations pose to ICT applications.
The CCKE participates in the Dutch research School for Information and Knowledge Systems (SIKS), and contributes to the stimulation programs of NWO-EW and NWO-MAG in funded areas of interest in short-term and long-term research (a.o. in the program 'Society and the Electronic Highway' (NWO-MES)).

Positioning within Utrecht University

In his memorandum 'Profile and Profit' Michiel Westermann (1999) has pointed out the inadequate recognizability of computer science for the public at large. The proliferation of applied programs of computer science (liberal arts computer science, biology computer science, law computer science) that began in the mid eighties has muddled the position of basic computer science itself even more. This situation demands a re-arrangement, whereby information science can fulfill a useful role because it is focused on the generic aspects of applied computer science. The CCKE is receptive to collaboration with any research group from other faculties (such as Law, Social Science, Liberal Arts), when one can expect this to lead to synergy. 'Theoretical' and 'applied' can vary per collaboration: sometimes the CCKE will obtain theoretical research knowledge from elsewhere, and sometimes it will, in comparison to the research partner, be the logical choice for performing the theoretical research.

Existing contacts with Experimental Psychology and Educational Science (Social Sciences) and CIW (Liberal Arts) will be intensified. Within the ICS, close relationships have been forged with the Center for Geometry, Imaging and Virtual Environments (GIVE), especially in the areas of multimedia and visualization (externalization of information), and with the Center for Computational Intelligence (CCI) in the areas of knowledge acquisition, decision support systems, mental models and agents.

Positioning within the Institute of Information and Computing Sciences (ICS)

To be able to realize the ambitions of the ICS, and conform the Full- and Assistant Professor plan (the ‘HGL- and UHD-plan’), the discipline group of Information Science will be divided into a number of chairs:
1. Electronic Document Technology and Information Systems
Next to this existing chair for Information Science (Van den Berg), full professorships are anticipated for:
2. Cognitive and Communicative Aspects of Information Technology and Information Systems
3. Organization and Information
4. Information & Communication Technology and -Policy.
In turn, these will be related to existing Computer Science chairs: Swiersta,  Meyer, Overmars, Van der Gaag and van Leeuwen, and, to a lesser degree, with Siebes (conform the ‘HGL- and UHD-plan’). As far as this can be anticipated in the current stage of vacancies, the following themes will receive special attention within these chairs:

Within the area of Electronic Document Technology and Information Systems:

Within the area of Cognitive and Communicative Aspects of Information Technology and Information Systems:

Within the area of Organization and Information, and Information & Communication Technology and – Policy:

When, in future years, the thusly-formed discipline areas within the CCKE will have developed sufficiently, the expectation is that the intended research will be able to compete on the highest level both nationally and internationally. The CCKE is already successful in the competition for research funds from the NWO and the EEC, and our portion should be growing strongly given the tenure of the Dutch research themes and those of the 6th EEC framework program. Collaboration in research funded by governmental departments and commercial parties should be quite achievable given the excellent contacts and collaborative connections that already exist. It goes without saying that a sufficiently critical mass of (directly) funded researchers is a condition for achieving the above.

Collaboration Partners

In spite of the fact that Information Science Utrecht has only existed for a short while, it has succeeded in setting up a number of interesting projects over the full breadth of its knowledge domain:

These contacts will be developed into master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation research, with or without co-financing.

The Research Focus of CCKE

The area of Electronic Document Technology and Information Systems

Electronic Document Technology. (a.k.a. "Content Engineering"), this (partime) chair is currently held by Prof. Dr. J. Van den Berg.

Research area and mission

We define our research area as follows: CONTENT ENGINEERING is the development of information systems that support the entire value chain of content production or parts thereof: creation, digitisation, storage, search, manipulation, management, distribution and delivery, in an effective, efficient and user-friendly way. We consider a value chain to be a sequence of process steps linked together, in which each process step adds a certain value to the content and is executed by a certain actor. Digital Content is digital single medium or multimedia information and structure, reference(s) and metadata. This means that we consider content to be rather complex by nature, it is usually not only multimedia but in addition it is enriched (has structure and metadata) and is also part of a linkage structure (is referenced). Content is in many cases strongly related to "knowledge", it can even directly represent (codified) knowledge (thesauri, ontologies etcetera) or by reading or studying content lead to knowledge with humans. Content Management in organisations is many times referred to as Knowledge Management, since much of the organisational knowledge is in its produced content. If Knowledge Management is concerned with delivering 'the right information, at the right time, to the right person, in the right way (for him or her)' then Content Engineering is making it possible!

The chairs' research area finds its raison d'être in the ever increasing importance and volume of digital content, and we are committed to scientific research in analysing and innovating content value chains or parts thereof, by focussing on architecture for design of digital content, through the integration of fundamental and applied knowledge from Information and Computing Sciences.
The interaction of the possibilities of choice that designers (i.e. constructors) are faced with when they need to integrate content, functionality and form into a single design for a digital publication – all this while keeping in mind the whole range of technical possibilities, re-use of information and cognitive constraints for effective use – generates a complexity that needs to be researched in its entirety. This entails structuring the gathering of information as well as choosing the surrounding technical facilities that support the input, management, retrieval and the publishing itself; in addition, such facilities need to be tailored to one another. The field of Content Engineering has a wide scope and we confine our efforts only to several aspects of the whole value chain. Our programme has as focal point the ARCHITECTURE FOR DESIGN AND PUBLISHING. The research program aims at generic models and solutions for content engineering problems collectively rooted in the complicated structuring of complex content, at different levels: the physical, the semantic, and the presentation level. The problems referred to become apparent in information processing operations, particularly in content retrieval, authoring and publishing. Evaluation of solutions is an integral part of the research program. The program is carried out in the Center of Content and Knowledge Engineering. Our research theme addresses content from the perspective of the designers (i.e. constructors). The broad range of options that writers and designers are faced with when they need to integrate content, functionality and form into a single design for a digital publication. This, in combination with the technical possibilities and cognitive constraints for effective usage, generates a complexity that needs to be researched in its entirety. It carries on the research questions from the retrieval-theme to a next stage, entailing information gathering as well as structuring, and the choice of supporting technical infrastructure.

This theme comprises the following categories of research problems:
A. Structured content authoring, which has its emphasis on modeling, e.g. incrementally updating of XML schemas for content that can not be completely defined from the beginning (in collaboration with Thieme-Meulenhoff)
B. Editorial support: designing strategies and tools for reorganizing content for reuse on different platforms, in different publication contexts and for different user groups (reusability).
C. Integral multimedia presentations, which goes beyond scientific data visualization and emphasizes the multimedia presentation of the internal (semantic) connections in complex content (publishing).

The area of Cognitive and Communicative Aspects of Information Technology and Information Systems

This fulltime chair (vacant, the group is currently lead by Dr H. van Oostendorp) is focused on the cognitive and communicative processes of users during interaction with information systems. Furthermore attention is paid to the role of knowledge management and the sharing of knowledge in organizations. This knowledge engineering aspect is studied particularly with the use of intelligent agent technology. The goal of all these activities is to advance scientific knowledge about these processess, particularly in the context of games and simulated environments, with the aim to improve individual quality of daily and work life and organizational performance.

Many technological products and information systems that require users to interact with them so they can carry out their tasks, have not (necessarily) been designed with theses users in mind. The aim of our interaction design perspective is to contribute to the development of products and systems that are easy, effective and enjoyable to use, from the users' perspective. Our research is organized around three interrelated aspects: I. the cognition aspect, II. the communication aspect and III. the knowledge engineering aspect.

I.       The cognition aspect focuses on the cognitive (and perceptual) processes involved with the interaction between users and systems. An effective use of information systems requires an adequate interaction between users and those systems, e.g. games. The aim is to contribute to the creation of better and more valid knowledge on making the interaction between the user and a system more effective and flexible. This way, users can spend their attention and effort maximally on the primary task and not be distracted or hindered by a secondary task - operating the system. It has become clear that the fit between how the user represents the system (mental model), how the interaction with the system is represented on the interface, and the characteristics of the system as intended by the designer is an important issue for optimal human-computer interaction. ‘How to optimize the interaction principles behind interface design so that this fit will improve’ is focus of research. One of the concerns is for the system to supply the correct information to carry out the task while taking account of aspects like the task at hand, knowledge and skills of the user, and the communicative situation. Visualizing information on-screen that is relevant to the underlying rules of a problem or a task can, under certain conditions, have a facilitating effect on this. On the other hand, in other circumstances visualizing information can prevent learning.  Insight into those conditions and underlying (learning) mechanisms is important to deduce valid statements about the role of externalization of information, using visualization, in executing tasks using a computer screen. Furthermore, usability evaluation constitutes an important part of the interaction theme: usability and user friendliness of systems form an ever more important aspect of systems, especially since an ever broader set of users has to be able to interact with them. We pay attention to this issue especially in the context of studying (mobile) web navigation tasks and modeling the cognitive mechanisms involved in (mobile) web use.

II.   The communication aspect involves particularly the linguistic aspect of the interaction between users and systems. Underlying our model of communication is the recognition that humans interact naturally with their environment in two ways: symbolically and physically. On the one hand, if there is an intermediary interpreter, humans can interact symbolically and use linguistic means; on the other hand, physically, humans manipulate objects or observe them by physical actions. In our research we focus on the first type of interaction, i.e. linguistic communication. A computer system is, therefore, considered as an electronic assistant that has beliefs and intentions and is able to provide relevant linguistic feedback given the input of the user and the circumstances of the interaction. In the projects three aspects of the conversational process are investigated. First, we investigate how conceptual discrepancies between a user and a system can be detected by the system and possibly be solved by the generation of linguistic feedback. Second, we develop dialogue protocols for construction of a shared communication vocabulary and test these in a multi-agent system. Third, we research the effects of embodiment of the electronic agent on the interaction process.

III.   The knowledge engineering aspect concerns the way in which knowledge is –or can be- shared with the aid of information technology. This aspect is central to the area of knowledge engineering. We focus on: (1) experimental study and simulation research of how knowledge sharing between individuals and groups of users in virtual environments, such as online communities or communities of practice, can be understood and facilitated; and, (2) the use of intelligent agent technology to develop conceptual models and build more intelligent, adaptive, distributed, and intelligent information systems.  Using the agent metaphor can allow system developers to adopt a level of abstraction in design that is useful for modeling complex tasks and environments, and in building software systems that are robust in the face of change and unexpected events.

CCKE Projects in Progress

Projects in the area of Electronic Document Technology and Information Systems