Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Watch your language - knowledge vs information

The pyramid of Data, Information and Knowledge has been knocking around for years. I often see 'Wisdom' tacked on top. I find the word slightly pretentious, so prefer 'Insight' as it is more action oriented. 
The terms 'Knowledge' and 'information' are used interchangeably by many people and with little thought to what makes them different. This is not just a semantic argument; how we manage each is very different and requires different skills. I use this graphic, or a variation of it, at the start of many of the knowledge transfer training sessions that I run. I also use an illustrative example, such as:
  • Data - Field 1:13, field 2: 12, field 3: 08:17 
  • Information - The timetable for my number 13 bus to work shows that it is scheduled to arrive at my closest stop (12) located on Ridgeway Drive at 08:17 
  • Knowledge - Through experience, I know that this bus is sometimes 2 or 3 minutes early, often full and that mothers with strollers get on the front rather than back doors, as that is where the stroller space is.
  • Insight - Walk to one stop before Ridgeway Drive by 08:10 and get on using the rear doors (insight)
There is no way you would get that knowledge or insight from the bus timetable, but you might if you talk to a fellow passenger.
By the way, the layers in the graphic do not represent a hierarchy of importance. Informed decision taking depends on evidence as well as insight. Accurate and timely data is critical in both operations and evidence based policy-making. 
The bridge between information and knowledge is metadata; the human factors that make information findable and most importantly allow people to connect. I've recently added the metadata layer to this graphic to emphasise this.
A holistic view of managing information and knowledge is important, but let's get on the right bus.

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