Nothing good can come from believing Data -> Information -> Knowledge

Talking of information being socially situated, I’ve not been a fan of the data -> information -> knowledge and sometimes -> wisdom (DIKW) model for a long time, but in way it provides a great opportunity to discuss what Knowledge Management is and isn’t about. I ‘debunked’ the DIKW model as a way to frame the focus of series of master classes on KM that I ran in Singapore in 2006 and 2007, where I discuss how technology could be used to enable KM rather an a means to its own end.

At around the same time, I also wrote an article about next generation Knowledge Management (look for ‘Knowledge Management: How to separate the wheat from the chaff’ in my list of articles) where I forward some pragmatic arguments against using this model:

“From the perspective of knowledge management this model is flawed for a number of reasons, such as:

  • It over emphasises the position of information technology in knowledge management, when in fact technology is only ever one element;
  • It suggests that “knowledge” (and perhaps the discipline of knowledge management) is superior to information and data when the comparison with tangible bits and bytes is nonsensical; and
  • It ignores the complex relationship data and information has as a resource within organisational systems (that is, its not just about the data itself but where it came from, who owns and who can access it).”

Anyway, the debate about DIKM has raised its head again and David Gurteen provides some links to some of the key discussions, including David Weinberger and Patrick Lamb most recently:

David writes in his concluding point:

“The real problem with the DIKW pyramid is that it’s a pyramid. The image that knowledge (much less wisdom) results from applying finer-grained filters at each level, paints the wrong picture. That view is natural to the Information Age which has been all about filtering noise, reducing the flow to what is clean, clear and manageable. Knowledge is more creative, messier, harder won, and far more discontinuous. “

Patrick has a good crack at giving us an overview of the whole history of the DIKW and the debates about it. He concludes:

“We need a better conceptual model, certainly, for explaining the elements of data, information and knowledge (and keeping wisdom well out of it), and how they interact. Deeper than that, we need to address the legitimising need of the players in data, information and knowledge management. We need a social model for how the disciplines interact in the service of the enterprise (or the community, or society). If we don’t address this need, we’re just children throwing stones, across lines in a pyramid, at varying levels of abstraction.”

Nikhil Sharma’s 2008 piece on the origins of DIKW (which I hadn’t read before) is also well worth reading.

However, if none of these arguments convince you perhaps I can put it another way: The DIKW model is like taking drugs – sure, it feels great the first time you use it, but ultimately its not going to be good for you.

Of course if you really want to argue about it – as Patrick points out – then go poke Dave Snowden!

Photo Credit: Star Trek – Data’s Head and other parts


5 thoughts on “Nothing good can come from believing Data -> Information -> Knowledge

  1. Thanks James, not exactly getting the point hereYou do read excited, but what’s it all about? I’m using the DIKW pyramid without having read anything ever about it, to me it’s like baby-infant-adolescent-adult: it’s the way it’s supposed to go, no guarantee it’s gonna go that way, no judgement or valuations on that anyway / eitherBut, apart, from all that, you believe this *not* to be, so, my question is: what do you believe to be?

  2. Martijn – The fact that you are using it without thinking about is part of the problem. If you are using this in a KM context (by name or otherwise) then in the longer term is will cause you pain. Yeah, its a nice simply model that CxOs and other senior managers can understanding, but you can’t deliver what it promises – we know that, because this is where first generation KM failed. All I can suggest is that you start with my article, ‘Knowledge Management: How to separate the wheat from the chaff’.

  3. Ah, too much room for assumption, it seems. Let me try to get aligned here:1. I use it, and think about it. It is a pyramid, but having a foundation doesn’t mean the rest will come by itself, or even at all2. KM, KM – I did post something on that in dachis’ ideascale…3. I do see that you’re passionate about knowledge +/- – so am INothing is obvious or self-evident. But above all: management is a term coming from Latin, and it means “manu(s) agere”: hands leading, or leading (by) hand(s). Knowledge is too complex to lead, you can only facilitate it. Wisdom can’t be facilitated, only wished for. BUT one leads to the other in the sense that it can’t be the other way aroundYou should talk more to Lee Provoost 😉 – opposites attract, they say…

  4. 1. I’m fairly sure I agree w/your fundamental issues w/DIKW. 2. “it provides a great opportunity to discuss what Knowledge Management is and isn’t about” Doesn’t much matter what the topic is if you’re applying it to something that doesn’t exist : ) 3. “it’s a pyramid”, it might as well be a funnel, because I don’t agree with either knowledge paradigm — the latter being Roger Martin’s 4. It’s a continuum without discrete parts and therefore cannot be automated, whether implicit, explicit or illicit.

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