A thorough understanding of what needs are is fundamental for designing well-behaved information systems for many social applications and in particular for public services. Talking about needs pervades indeed the jargon of Public Administrations when motivating their service offering. In this paper, we propose an ontological analysis of needs, aiming at a principled disentangling of the different uses of the term. We leverage philosophical tradition on intentionality, for its rich understanding of mental entities, we compare it with the well-established BDI (Belief-Desire-Intention) tradition in knowledge representation, and we propose a formalisation of needs within the foundational ontology DOLCE. Throughout the paper, we motivate our analysis focusing on needs in public services.
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