To improve the accessibility of our knowledge on damaging processes, we should examine how our experience-based reference system could be supported by a more systematic way of data cataloguing. A possibility is the use of knowledge-based systems. These systems are not a new phenomenon: They are widely used in health care, and also for building pathology some systems do exist. Knowledge-based systems consist of a framework to contain data, and a tool to make these data accessible. This tool could be an index, but also a deduction function: a set of rules composing a 'wizard' that guides a user through a list of questions, to determine which specific information is asked for, or to find a solution to a specific problem. In building
pathology, a knowledge-based system could contain an overview of damaging processes, including clear selection criteria how to distinguish between them. The benefits of such a system are obvious: It supports the investigator in the framing of a hypothesis, while the systematic approach makes the method unambiguous and, therefore, communicable. Prerequisite is a consistent use of terminology, to make the stored knowledge retrievable and suitable for exchange.
An example of a knowledge-based system is the expert system and decision support tool MDDS (Monument Damage Diagnostic System, successor of the Masonry Damage Diagnostic System). This system aims to facilitate a minimal intervention approach, by offering a structured, transparent and consistent method for analysing and diagnosing damage. MDDS helps to collect and order all relevant data on symptoms and context, and supports the interpretation of these data by offering background information on damage types and patterns, damaging processes and methods of testing (van Hees et al. 2005).
Until recently, MDDS mainly contained information on damage related to the interaction between materials and environmental factors. To fill this gap, a module on structural damage is now being developed. In the next section, it is explained why a diagnostic instrument for structural damage should be based on a clear distinction between processes and factors, and on the use of a consistent terminology.
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