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The current situation in negotiation research and ENSs design shows unprecedented efforts to integrate the theoretical and practical results coming from many disciplines. There are three main reasons underlying these efforts: (1) ICTs achieved a level of maturity allowing for the design of flexible systems used by millions of people and numerous organizations to interact and conduct complex transactions; (2) the growing complexity of social interactions, globalization and an increasing impact of local decisions on geographically far away communities and organizations led to strong interest in effective conflict resolution mechanism; and (3) the designers' and developers' acceptance of the fact that, contrary to the suggestions that the “third,” global culture has emerged, local cultures and organizational solutions continue to persists and affect approaches to conflict identification and its resolution.

These efforts result, among others, in the formulation of comprehensive approaches to the engineering of negotiations allowing for the integration of behavioural process models, and normative, prescriptive and descriptive models of decision making and conflict resolution. This project builds on the engineering approach to the design of negotiations as socio-technical systems rather than a social system that are mediated with technology. The proposed systems comprise people and technological solutions, each actively involved in decision making and conflict resolution activities.

The interaction between people and software and the active role of the software requires the use of negotiation protocols; models that guide software processing and communication tasks, and imposes restrictions on activities through the specification of permissible inputs. The concept of the negotiation protocol is one of the most important computer science contributions to negotiation modelling and representation. In autonomous negotiations a negotiation protocol is a complete set of rules that governs the software agents' reasoning, actions and interactions; it determines the logic of the process, construction of alternatives, and the formulation and interpretation of offers and messages. Protocols are also required in other e-negotiations; they are used to define the division of responsibilities and scope of interactions between the systems and their users, and control the application of models embedded in the systems.

The long-term objective is to formulate principles and approaches to engineering of socio-technical systems for many participants involved in decision-making and negotiation activities. Engineering of socio-technical systems is concerned with the design of systems which are immersed in a social setting, address social problems and involve many different users. It is concerned not only with the design of software which meets the users' needs and requirements which is the domain of software engineering, but also with the design of social processes in which both software and people are active participants and co-operate to achieve a common goal.

To attain towards this long-term objective we will work on the construction of a software platform for multi-participant decision making and multi-party negotiations. The platform comprises a number of competitive and complementary software solutions which are configured at the run-time into one or more e-negotiation systems.

The requirement that the software platform comprises both competitive and complementary software solutions stems from different user needs and requirements, different types of problems and their contexts, and different organizational settings. In the competitive components models and procedures are implemented for the same types of activities, e.g., preference elicitation, construction of a utility or value function, concession making and the negotiation process. Components for different types of activities are complementary if they can be combined together according to the selected negotiation protocol, e.g., a component for the problem structuring may be linked with a component for preference elicitation followed by a component for the construction of a value function. This linkage of components allows for the customization of software to the user(s) requirements.

The overall framework of the project is given in the figure below. The activities indicated with [S] are part of the project Electronic negotiations, media and transactions for socio-economic interaction. The activities indicated with [N] are undertaken in this project.

The theoretical basis of this project includes: (1) the methodology of decision making; (2) negotiation analysis and modelling of negotiation processes, (3) decision and negotiation support; (4) representation of, and reasoning about knowledge of negotiations and negotiators; (5) design and development of negotiation software agents, support tools and software platforms; and (6) principles and guidelines for engineering of social processes.

Decision making is concerned with two interrelated processes: problem formulation and decision-maker preferences. Problem formulation may involve complex modelling activities (e.g., modelling of environment, production and market). These activities are often conducted by analysts and experts and are considered as external activities in the proposed framework. Problem specification also involves its structuring and specification of relevant constraints, attributes and criteria. Soft systems methodology, value focused thinking and other approaches will be adapted to help decision-makers formulate the problem.

Elicitation and representation of decision-makers' preferences is one of the key concerns of decision sciences. Many models and procedures that have been proposed were designed for analysts who were intermediaries between the system and the decision-maker. These and other approaches required a significant input from the users – a requirement that is not realistic in e-commerce, e-democracy and related applications involving lay people.

Negotiation analysis is characterized by its prescriptive/descriptive orientation in that it aims at providing prescriptive advice to the supported negotiator, based on descriptions of the actions undertaken by her/his counterparts. This approach has been considered in the literature as integrative because the support effort is directed towards the achievement of efficient agreements. We have shown that this is not the case: integrative negotiations require expansion of the set of alternatives. To facilitate integrative, distributed and mixed-type negotiations a combination of normative, prescriptive and descriptive (behavioural) approaches is needed; this combination needs to represent both the negotiator and his/her counterparts. This will allow for the consideration of framing, anchoring and other socio-psychological traits in aiding and supporting the negotiators.

Modelling of negotiations includes the formulation of process models and rules that govern the actions in negotiations. While models of human negotiations have been proposed in behavioural studies, models involving software agents and human-agents interactions have been proposed in computer sciences. The former do not consider the active roles of software and the former ignore many socio- psychological issues affecting the negotiation. Therefore we need to combine both models. The assumptions and requirements underlying the resulting models will provide the basis for the formulation of negotiation protocols.

The need for decision support systems ( DSS s) in e-commerce, networked organizations and e-society is more important than before. In the past, DSS s were stand-alone and passive systems, now they need to be situated in the environment and active. The same goes for the ENSs which include both decision and negotiation support tools and software agents.


October 6, 2005