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Taxonomy of Thorendal » Data, information and knowledge

Taxonomy of Thorendal

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May 16, 2005

Data, information and knowledge

by Thorendal

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I will in (very) short try to explain the difference between three central concepts in the domain of knowledge organization. It will be in this perspective I will later on use the concepts.

There exists three kinds of ’information’ that are different from each other, and is influenced by how much human involvment there is and how much interpretation there is put towards the concept of information.
The processes of information and human involvment can be put as parallel processes that has an impact on each other:

Data ↔ information ↔ knowledge
Human interference↔ formulated/consciousness

(Inspired by von Krogh, Ichijo og Nonaka, 2000, p.7)

Data is raw material without any kind of context. This kind of information is not intented to be informative, only indicative. Data is the same as facts. This might not be the normal perception of the concept, but examples on data is unambiguous messurements, statistical charts, colours, weights and so on (Buckland, 1991, p.352). It can be said that the creation of information is contingent upon data.
Information is analyzed data which is exact opposite from data by having some kind of explanatory context attached to it. Information has normally passed a human being to exist, which is not the case with data. Information can therefor be documents with some kind of form and content that by Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) is carakterized as a ‘flow’ of messages. Information is build on the facts that is created in the world of data - but is more or less interpretated.
Knowledge is created on the individual level (Conway og Sligar, 2002, p.2). According to Buckland (1991) knowledge seperates itself from the other two concepts (data and information) by not being formulated or at least not put into e.g. charts or articles (Buckland, 1991, p.351). That means that knowledge can become information, and that information is the basis for knowledge – a ongoing proces (Holdt Christensen, 2000, p.39).
Knowledge then is different from information which always in some form can be put into text, pictures, audio or another way (von Krogh, Ichijo og Nonaka, 2000, p.7). Buckland clearly (1991) puts it as ”[i]f you can touch it or measure it directly, it is not knowledge…”(Buckland 1991, p.352).

- Buckland, M. K. (1991). Information as a thing. Journal of the American society of informations science. 42(5), p.351-360.
- Conway, S. og Sligar, C. (2002). Unlocking knowledge assets. Washington: Microsoft Press. 233 pages.
- Holdt Christensen, P. (2000). Fra videnledelse til viden og ledelse – teoretiske perspektiver. I: Peter Holdt Christensen (red.) Viden om: Ledelse, viden og virksomheden. København: Samfundslitteraturen, p.11-61.
- Nonaka, I. og Takeuchi, H. (1995). The knowledge creating company: how Japanese companies create the dynamics of innovation. New York: Oxford University Press. 284 pages.
- Von Krogh, G., Ichijo, K. og Nonaka, I. (2000). Enabling knowledge creation. How to unlock the mystery of tacit knowledge and release the power of innovation. Oxford University Press. 292 pages.

Filed under Taxonomy at 3:38 pm

2 Responses to “Data, information and knowledge”

  1. Andy Havens wrote:

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    Very good, concise description of the difference between data, information and knowledge. I use very similar definitions when I teach marketing to designers at a local arts college. Another, more practical description of “knowledge” that I give them is that knowledge involves being able to “do something” with information. For example, being able to draw, drive, cook, juggle, stand on your hands, change a diaper, etc. You can read “information” about those activities, but until you have done them, or, as you put it, get it going at the “individual level,” you have not created any knowledge. Artists know this instintively, and grasp the difference when I ask them, “Can you learn to draw by reading about it.” Of course not.

    We in America confuse information and knowledge. We think that when we increase our information, we have learned something. Mostly, we do not. We have only increased some internal storage of something that may, or may not, turn out to be useful if put into practice. Until we actually do something, we have not learned anything, we have not increased our knowledge, we are no smarter.

    Nice post.

  2. Thorendal wrote:

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    Dear Andy,
    thanks for an interesting supplement to my post. I am of course glad to know that I am not the only one who distinguish between the concepts in this way.
    The people I meet through work and networks usually do not even think about that there is a difference, but I do think it is important to keep the concepts clear of each other to be able to handle them ‘correctly’.
    So, as I already said - I am glad to see that more people care for the same difinitions.


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