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Insights and articles related to knowledge management, information security, technology, data and analytics, business process automation, platform management, and other related topics, from our experienced team of consultants.

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

Abby Clobridge

Abby Clobridge is the founder of FireOak Strategies. She works with clients around the world to enhance how organizations manage, secure, and share their knowledge. You can reach Abby at [email protected].

What's the difference between knowledge, information, and data?

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.

Two Types of Knowledge

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.

Is it Data, Information, or Knowledge?

Following are two examples to illustrate the differences between data, information, and knowledge. 

Example 1: Chocolate Chip Cookies

Think about making chocolate chip cookies. In this case: 

Data is the number of chocolate chips in the bag. Information is the cookie recipe printed on the back. Knowledge is what your grandmother taught you that you rely on to make the best cookies that you've ever tasted. That includes everything you use to follow the directions and fill in the gaps that aren't included in the recipe -- for instance, 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.

Data: The barcode on your boarding pass.
Information: Details that can be derived from this data, including the flight number and departure time. Knowledge: Translating the knowledge and information into something actionable -- like what time to leave for the airport, or how long it will take to get from the airport to your destination.

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.

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