“Data” and “Information” are not the same thing
If you revisit the DIKW Pyramid on the Home page of this site, it reminds us that data are the fragments of content you have before you make sense of it in order to gather or produce information. Data is what private investigators process to solve crimes; what accountants crunch to report on the financial status of a company; what journalists piece together to write a news story. Data make up the pieces of the puzzle and information is the picture you get when you put those pieces togather. Missing pieces of data often lead to incomplete information.
“Knowledge” and “Information” are not the same thing
Many KM practitioners believe that “knowledge” is just a more sensational term for “information” within the organization and try to manage it the same way one would manage information. On the contrary, knowledge cannot be seen or read like information. It cannot be architected or measured in bits and bytes. Knowledge is the product of experience. Shared knowledge produces information for the recipient, but the actual knowledge remains with the owner who derived it from a combination of personal experiences, and prior knowledge and information.
Why You Need to Treat Them Differently
So, why does it matter what we call them anyway?! Data, information and knowledge are distinct types of organizational content with unique challenges and approaches for creating value out of them. Taking a one-size-fits-all approach will leave us spinning our wheels - talking about how difficult it is to manage these three things strategically without making any progress. It prevents us from recognizing that each one requires a unique set of skills and tactics for managing them successfully.
The best way to “manage” knowledge, if that concept intrigues you too much to let it go, is to enable and encourage your staff to use the knowledge they have to...
1) do better work,
2) create new knowledge for themselves, and
3) convert their new knowledge into information (what is often referred to as “codified knowledge” or “explicit knowledge”) that colleagues can use
The strategies and approaches to achieving this are very different from those employed for managing information, which is tangible, visible and has physical boundaries. Managing knowledge is primarily about managing people (motivating, facilitating, persuading, socializing, etc.) while managing information is primarily about managing objects (structuring, labeling, translating, mapping, etc.).
Is it sometimes necessary to take a holistic view of data, information and knowledge? Yes. Is it equally important to recognize and take distinct approaches to managing their unique characteristics? Absolutely. Treating them as one in the same will simply leave major blind spots that prevent us from getting any of them right.