Semantic Web

network diagram

The sustainable sourcing project links our project information--including frameworks, issues, indicators, datasets, and strategies-- in a multi-relational way through the creation of a Semantic Web.  A Semantic Web uses a controlled vocabulary and ontologies to build a network of machine-readable information.

To create a controlled vocabulary, each piece of information is explicitly defined in the same way that other people define it, and ontologies are developed to define the relationships between different pieces of information.  For instance, water scarcity is related to food security, while greenhouse gas emissions are a driver of climate change. 

Once these definitions are put into a standardized format that computers can recognize, the Semantic Web comes alive.  The Semantic Web enables us to network each of the tools in our platform to one another and establishes a basis for others to add their own information and ultimately expand the reach of the Semantic Web by using the same conventions for their own sustainable sourcing projects and platforms.

At the most basic structural level, the Semantic Web helps us clearly link each piece of the Sustainable Sourcing platform including:

  • A controlled vocabulary to construct an integrated set of issues that span corporate, public, and    academic perspectives of sustainable sourcing (along with a tool for searching these terms in existing corporate communications);
  • Linking 2000+ indicators to the 344+ issues and run algorithms to that identify  a manageable  number of indicators to cover a chosen set of issues (i.e. a minimum covering set of indicators);
  • Defining the relationships between different issues, which are used to construct frameworks to describe the conceptual foundation of sustainability in agricultural sourcing (ontologies);
  • Using the same vocabularies and ontologies to build links to indicator data, which enables easy data searches and direct importing into our GIS tool (and has the potential for automatic uploading and updating with real-time data).  


Beyond this structure, however, the Semantic Web enables better communication possibilities with the broader agricultural community.  The Web establishes increased capacity for sharing information and language on a uniform platform that stakeholders, decision makers, and researchers can all access and use.  This could be particularly useful in multi-stakeholder initiatives to help negotiate common frameworks, issues, indicators, and strategies amongst a diverse pool of interests and perspectives.  

The sustainable sourcing piece of the broader Semantic Web contributes to burgeoning efforts to standardize data formats across the internet in an attempt to better structure the way we share data across applications and disciplinary boundaries.