A new way to look at knowledge and information
The relationship between knowledge and information has always been problematical. Here is a new way to look at it.
- It implies that each class can be turned into the next by some sort of transformation process, so that information plus something turns into knowledge. However it is not as simple as that. Much or most knowledge comes from experience and insight rather than from information. Knowledge is something you add to information in order to be able to take action; it is not necessarily something you derive from information.
- It implies a hard distinction between each of the four, whereas information and knowledge potentially overlap. Documented knowledge is knowledge, but its also information. Not all knowledge is information, and not all information is knowledge, but some is both information and knowledge.
- It implies wisdom is somehow part of the same family as data and information, and it isn’t. Wisdom is more of a virtue or a spiritual quality, and not amenable to management discipline.
At the top of this diagram are things that are Knowledge, and on the right are things that are Information. This gives us 4 quadrants.
- Top left is Knowledge that is not Information. Here is Tacit knowledge; the things you know without realising. Also Implicit Knowledge (if you use that term) – the things you know and can express but have not yet expressed, or recorded, or documented.
- Top right is Knowledge that is also Information. This is documented or codified knowledge – documents that transfer knowledge; that teach, instruct, advise, educate, and otherwise give people the ability to act. They contain the things you would say if you were to express your tacit knowledge. Here are your recipes, your tips and hints, your guidance notes, training material, best practices, standard operating procedures and checklists.
- Bottom right is Information that is not Knowledge. Here are records and documents that do not teach, instruct, advise, or educate. Here are minutes of meetings, or invoices, or contracts.
- Bottom left is everything else. Data sits in this box, but so do clouds and kittens and rocks.
Does this diagram work?
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Information Management covers the two right hand boxes, ensuring that the Information is structured, stored, owned, tagged, findable and retrievable.
In the top right hand box, documented knowledge is managed by both disciplines. Knowledge Management addresses the contents of the documents, while Information Management covers the containers – the documents and files themselves. Information Management and Knowledge Management are not mutually exclusive disciplines, they are overlapping disciplines.
I think that last point is the most valuable outcome of looking at information and knowledge in this different way; the point that Information Management and Knowledge Management are complementary and overlapping, that they overlap in the realm where knowledge is also information and information is also knowledge (even though you might argue it is Potential Knowledge), and that they manage this area in different ways.
With this view point we can avoid some of the dualistic and mechanistic thinking of the past, and start to understand how these two disciplines interact.