Dr. Andrew Basden


Andrew Basden,
I.T. Institute,
University of Salford,
M5 4WT.

Tel +44 161 745 5507
Fax +44 161 745 8169

Room 15,
Venables Building.
ext 5507.

Career Summary

After obtaining a First Class Honours Degree in Electronics (Science) at the University of Southampton in 1969, Andrew entered research in the field of Computer Aided Design. For his PhD Dissertation he pioneered a topological method for laying out electronic circuit boards, which still has relevance today. Following this, he spent twelve years in the business uses of computers, starting with data analysis, progressing through medical records (and the problems of error-ridden data) into expert systems (knowledge based systems). Then, in 1986, he joined the University of Salford, first as research fellow in the Surveying Separtment, and then as lecturer and senior lecturer of the new Information technology Institute.

The remainder outlines his various academic interests. For more general interests and commitments, including his Green and Christian activities, see andrew.html.

Knowledge Based Systems

During the first part of the 1980s he worked in ICI plc on knowledge based systems, focusing on the knowledge level rather than symbol level. That is, he focused his work on issues of

His experience at ICI opened up new vistas for research at the knowledge level, which he subsequently started to explore when he joined the University of Salford.

In 1986 he joined the University of Salford, as chief Knowledge Engineer for the highly acclaimed ELSIE project which became one of the most successful Expert Systems of its time. The ELSIE project built upon and refined his ICI experience, and led to a number of funded projects to develop the Client Centred Methodology and Client Centred Approach to building knowledge based, and other information, systems. Subsequently, in other projects other KBSs have been constructed.

Benefits and Impact of Technology in Use

A joint EPSRC-funded project with the University of Newcastle Psychology Department studied ELSIE in use. A particularly significant research outcome was the development of a three-layer model of benefits, by which the link between technical features and eventual success or failure could be understood, and hence predicted, evaluated and designed for.

This line of interest led him to collaborate with the Department of Informatics and Systems Science, University of Luleā, Sweden, concerning the usefulness and impact of technology in its working context. This was undergirded with pluralistic philosophy via MultiModal Systems Theory.

Integrated Knowledge Representation

Another line of research that Dr. Basden was central in was the integration of spatial, quantitative and conceptual knowledge by linking Geographic Information Systems with knowledge based systems. This work, applied to environmental planning, eventually led to the KINDS project.

This has been part of broader research programme into the foundations of knowledge representation and integration of several aspects of knowledge. It is founded on the concept of appropriateness which Dr. Basden introduced and developed, in an attempt to escape the technology-centred concepts of sufficiency, efficiency and expressive power of a representation.

This led to the start of a programme of research and development in which these ideas are bring implemented in software as IRKit, which seeks to provide a foundation for integrating not only various knowledge representation formalisms but also spatial knowledge and multimedia.

Proximal User Interface

During the 1990s a new departure has been an exploration of proximal user interfaces. It became clear that when building complex knowledge bases in ill-structured domains the process is more akin to creative design than to assembly of knowledge-pieces. This requires the user interface to be such as to require minimal cognitive effort and to give no interruption to the continuous flow of thinking that is taking place.

The traditional approaches of point and click graphical interfaces can impose too great a cognitive load and interrupt the user's flow of thinking. So he has proposed a number of principles for proximal user interfaces, which have been implemented and tested in two programs, Istar knowledge based system shell, and Annotator, which allows annotation of images. This work is in conjunction with the University of Southampton.

Drawing Meaning - Linking Semantics to User Actions

One of his interests, facilitated by the proximal user interface and one of its major motivations, lies in the drawing of meaning. That is, not just drawing, but linking the user actions during drawing with internal data structures (knowledge bases or databases) held in the computer.

This goes in the reverse direction to that normally encountered. Much research elsewhere is directed at how to create displays for existing data or knowledge, allowing the user to 'read' it graphically; his research is in how the user can 'write' knowledge graphically. For instance, by drawing boxes and arrows, to set up a semantic net knowledge base on which the computer can then operate.

So far, this has been investigated in two contexts, the creation of knowledge bases in ill-structured domains (Istar) and the annotation of historical images (Annotator). In both areas interpretation is a key issue; in the creation of knowledge bases, the user must interpret and clarify their thinking in the process of setting it down, and in annotation, the user develops an evolving interpretation of the contents of the image. In both cases the action of drawing helps the user's flow of thinking, and as they draw, useful data structures are built up in the background. In the case of the knowledge base they can then be executed by an inference engine; in the case of annotation, they can be searched and manipulated like a database.


Andrew Basden has pioneered the use of MultiMedia techniques in his teaching, but while doing so, has sought to develop a perspective on the technology that is not technology centred but takes into account the content and human aspects - yet gives proper regard to the technical considerations. It is based on the concepts of levels of meaning. In particular, he has paid close attention to movement and animation as purveyors of meaning, a task made easier by his adoption of the Amiga as his main platform.

Virtual Environments

From 1st August 1997, Andrew Basden is seconded to the National Centre for Virtual Environments, but will continue his other work.

Levels of Meaning

Starting from knowledge based systems, and the KBS community's attempts to come to terms with knowledge, Dr. Basden has extended Newell's (1982) concept of the knowledge level to a full suite of Levels of Meaning: which are irreducible to each other such that each covers a range of topics relevant to information systems and their use. This suite parallels those in linguistics.


With the above wide-ranging interests, it is not surprising that an interest has developed in philosophy, as an attempt to undergird and integrate the various themes. Dr. Basden is exploring the pluralist philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd, which provides a foundation for interdisciplinary working. Andrew is a founder member of the Centre for Technology and Social Systems, jointly with the Free University of Amsterdam and the University of Luleā, Sweden.


'Interdisciplinary' is a much-used word today - but what does it mean? It has first signified a desire to escape the narrow confines of single, isolated disciplines, but in most cases it has then meant merely pushing two or more disciplines together, hoping for some synergy. Both information technology usage and environmental sustainability and planning are interdisciplinary in nature, so there is a need for a more principled approach to them.

Andrew has sought for a sounder basis for interdisciplinary thinking and working. Dooyeweerdian philosophy provides one such basis, postulating a clear yet theorectically robust view of what a discipline is and what is the relatiohship between them. This work is in the early days, but it is hoped that a firm theoretical foundation can be found that is strong enough to support a wide range of interdisciplinary activity.


Since 1987 Andrew has been Lecturer, then Senior Lecturer, at the Information Technology Institute, covering databases, knowledge based systems, artificial intelligence, human computer interaction, multimedia and business information systems. He has pioneered the use of multimedia in the department's teaching.

He is seconded for part of each year to teach at the University of Luleā Sweden.

Page last updated 19 September 1997 by Andrew Basden.