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Knowledge, Information, and Data

What is Knowledge? Information? Data? While we may talk about them interchangeably, there are important differences between the three concepts.

Abby Clobridge is the founder of FireOak Strategies. She works with organizations around the world to support knowledge sharing -- including open access, open data, information security -- to connect people to the data, information, and knowledge they need. You can reach Abby at [email protected]

Starting at the bottom of the pyramid, data is a string of numbers, whereas information provides structure and context to numbers as words. Knowledge goes even further. Knowledge is actionable, applied information — the expertise or know-how that allows someone to make sense out of the information and be able to do something with it.

In addition, there are two types of knowledge:

  • Tacit knowledge: the knowledge people carry around in their heads.
  • Explicit knowledge: knowledge that is articulated, captured and presented in a format such as a report, blog post, email or other sort of printed or digital asset.

Data, Information, or Knowledge? Two Examples:

Example 1: Chocolate Chip Cookies

Data is the number of chocolate chips in the bag.  Information is the cookie recipe printed on the back. Knowledge is what your grandmother uses to make the best cookies that you’ve ever tasted — or what you use to follow the directions and fill in the gaps that aren’t included in the recipe (how to turn on the oven, where to find a baking sheet, how to use a mixer).

Example 2: Travel Logistics

The series of zeroes and ones stored inside of the barcode of an airline boarding pass is an example of data.  Information that can be derived from this data includes such descriptive details such as the flight number is “AA198” and that it is an American Airlines flight from JFK to Milan, and that it departs at 5:15 PM.

Knowledge is the application of data and information that allows a person or organization to act, make informed decisions, or process the data and information in meaningful ways. For instance, knowledge includes knowing that I should get to the airport in New York by 3:00 p.m. in order to make the flight, that that the flight usually arrives 30 minutes early, that it takes approximately an hour to collect luggage and clear customs at that hour of the afternoon.

FireOak Strategies is a boutique consulting firm that helps organizations manage, secure, and share their knowledge. We bring clarity to complexity, look for elegant and simple solutions, and make sure that organizations are focused on solving the right problems. Learn more…

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