Should You Encapsulate Knowledge in Modeling Real-World Things?

Ronald G.  Ross
Ronald G. Ross Co-Founder & Principal, Business Rule Solutions, LLC , Executive Editor, Business Rules Journal and Co-Chair, Building Business Capability (BBC) Read Author Bio       || Read All Articles by Ronald G. Ross

In this one-per-month special 'notepad' series, I am taking a quick look at important issues facing practitioners who are seeking to understand and apply the business rule approach for capturing business requirements and developing business systems.

Last month's column on encapsulation of knowledge in real-world things (objects) [1] produced some noteworthy feedback from readers.  In particular, one reader pointed out that 'encapsulate' and 'hide' are not exactly synonymous.

Encapsulate:  to surround, encase or protect in or as if in a capsule. [2]

Hide:  1a. to deposit in a place of concealment; put out of sight.  1b. to conceal for shelter or protection.  2. to withhold from someone or from public knowledge; keep secret. [3]

At issue in that column was my dog, and the irritation his barking potentially produces for my neighbors.  The feedback pointed out that my dog's bark is shared by everyone in earshot (a point I sadly concede).  Nonetheless, the bark belongs to the dog itself; it is the dog's bark.  The feedback continued, "It is common to specify that certain features [of objects] are public and other are private, while acknowledging that all are encapsulated."

Although the point about the difference between 'encapsulate' and 'hide' is well taken, how do you encapsulate something and also make it public?  Transparent capsules?  Then what's the point of the capsule?  In a model of real-world things, each primitive element -- including knowledge (terms, facts, and rules) -- should be separated from other primitives.  I can see absolutely no reason to encapsulate (shared) knowledge in such a model.

With regard to my barking dog, for example, knowledge shared by the neighbors and me (and perhaps the city) includes the following:

Dog exists.

Dog barks.

Dog belongs to owner (me).

Barking dogs must be made to stop by the dog's owner.

Such shared knowledge should certainly not be hidden -- and why should it even be encapsulated?  And in what?!  Consider the dogs-must-not-bark-to-the-point-of being-a-nuisance rule.  Into which real-world thing (object) should it be encapsulated?  owner?  neighbor?  policeperson?  judge?

Processes, on the other hand, are often different.  I concede I don't know how my dog barks.  That knowledge is encapsulated -- that is, hidden.  Air goes in, noise comes out.  I have no idea how my dog determines when he reaches a state of needing more air, or of being satiated with barking.  Nor do I really care much about such private knowledge -- especially when the neighbors come fuming to my door!


[1]  Ronald G. Ross, "Business vs. Environment in Business Models," Business Rules Journal, Vol. 4, No. 9 (Sept. 2003), URL: return to article

[2]  Webster's Third New International Dictionary - Unabridged. return to article

[3]  Ibid. return to article

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Standard citation for this article:

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Ronald G. Ross, "Should You Encapsulate Knowledge in Modeling Real-World Things?" Business Rules Journal, Vol. 4, No. 11, (Nov. 2003)

About our Contributor:

Ronald  G. Ross
Ronald G. Ross Co-Founder & Principal, Business Rule Solutions, LLC , Executive Editor, Business Rules Journal and Co-Chair, Building Business Capability (BBC)

Ronald G. Ross is Principal and Co-Founder of Business Rule Solutions, LLC, where he actively develops and applies the BRS Methodology including RuleSpeak®, DecisionSpeak and TableSpeak.

Ron is recognized internationally as the "father of business rules." He is the author of ten professional books including the groundbreaking first book on business rules The Business Rule Book in 1994. His newest are:

Ron serves as Executive Editor of and its flagship publication, Business Rules Journal. He is a sought-after speaker at conferences world-wide. More than 50,000 people have heard him speak; many more have attended his seminars and read his books.

Ron has served as Chair of the annual International Business Rules & Decisions Forum conference since 1997, now part of the Building Business Capability (BBC) conference where he serves as Co-Chair. He was a charter member of the Business Rules Group (BRG) in the 1980s, and an editor of its Business Motivation Model (BMM) standard and the Business Rules Manifesto. He is active in OMG standards development, with core involvement in SBVR.

Ron holds a BA from Rice University and an MS in information science from Illinois Institute of Technology. Find Ron's blog on For more information about Ron visit Tweets: @Ronald_G_Ross

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