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Short Description

An Action is something that is actually done (a 'unit of work' that is executed) by a single actor (on behalf of a given party), as a single operation, in a specific context. It is characteristic for an action that can be done either completely or not at all; it cannot be executed for (say) 50% (that's what 'unit of work' refers to).

During the time interval in which the action is executed, the actor may still execute other actions in other execution-contexts; this is often referred to as 'multi-tasking'.

The fact that an action can only be completely executed or not at all, makes actions the basic building blocks of (information) processes: it is the smallest unit of work that its owner, i.e. the party on whose behalf it will be run, has decided to consider. Consequently, the party can attribute characteristics to its actions, such as:

  • rights and/or duties for executing the action (that can be assigned to individual (or groups of) actors),

  • preconditions, postconditions and boundary conditions, that can be used for starting, deferring and stopping its execution,

  • policies, that provide actors that execute the action the necessary guidance regarding how to do the actual work,
  • etc.

    The Parties, Actors and Actions pattern provides an overview of how this concept fits in with related concepts.


The ability to distinguish between (non)actions allows one to determine which (kinds of) actors are capable of executing actions (e.g. by establishing that they have the competences required by the party, which is part of their onboarding), and as a consequence may be permitted and/or required to execute them. Also, this ability enables parties to determine the execution-policy, i.e. the set of rules, working-instructions, preferences and other guidance that actors should obey or comply with when executing an action on its behalf.


An Action is something

  • that is actually done (a unit of work that is executed) by a single actor (on behalf of a given party), as a single operation, in a specific context;
  • that is designed to be done either done completely or not at all (it cannot be done partially, e.g. for 50%);
  • whose execution is primarily guided by a policy of the party on whose behalf it is executed;
  • that typically produces a result that contributes to the realization of one or more objectives of the party.


  • The same work can constitute an action for one party, while it would not for another party. Consider the work associated with (a) drafting the contents of a letter of confirmation, (b) dating it, (c) signing it, (d) putting it in an envelope, (e) writing the destination address on the envelope, (f) affixing a stamp to the envelope if appropriate, and (g) handing it over to an internal or external postal service. One party may consider all this an indivisible amount of work that is always done by a single actor, thereby qualifying the work as an action. Another party may decide that (a)-(c) is one action, and (d)-(g) is another action, thus allowing different actors to write and dispatch the letter.

  • Decision typically qualify as an action, and hence can be seen as a specialization thereof.

  • Specific kinds of actions may be grouped together (at define/design time) in various ways to form e.g., workflows, a case-types, procedures, processes, etc.

  • When an actor is executing an action on behalf of a party, we say that the actor acts as the agent of that party, and the party fulfills the role of principal for that actor. See the parties, actors and action pattern for details.

  • A party will typically only assign an actor the task to execute an action after having onboarded that actor and having ensured the actor has been provided the means to successfully do so.

  • While the way an action is executed is primarily guided by a policy of its owner (i.e. the party on whose behalf the action is executed), the actor that executes it may have additional knowledge that it can tap into, and use it where the policy of the party does not provide (sufficient) guidance. For example, a policy would typically prescribe the structure of a letter of confirmation, but leave it to (additional knowledge that) the actor (can tap into) to fill in the details.

  • The result of an action is typically something that contributes to the realization of an objective of the party on whose behalf it was executed. As such, actions can be considered part of processes that manage that objective. The governance and management pattern has more on this.