Monday, 18 March 2013


How to explain the difference between knowledge and information


Zone Map of 100 Acadia (before) There is a discussion going on at the moment on Linked-In, about the definition of knowledge, with several people arguing that a definition of knowledge is fundamental to knowledge management.

Although I have a favourite definition, I find that I don't really use it much. It's very easy to get hung up on definitions, and many definition arguments are what I call "cul-de-sac" arguments, that take you nowhere.

I prefer to illustrate the difference between Information and Knowledge, with a story or an example.

Let's take the example of a map of mineral data, which you might use to site a gold mine.
Each point on the map is a datum - a mineral sample point, with a location in space. 
The map itself is information; built up from the data points in such a way that it shows patterns which can be interpreted by a trained geologist. 
However, to interpret that map needs knowledge. I could not interpret it - I am not a mining geologist - and unless you are a mining geologist, you could not interpret it either. The knowledge - the know-how, acquired through training and through experience - allows a mining geologist to interpret the map and come to a decision - to site a gold-mine, to take more samples, or to declare the area worthless. 
In this example, the data, the information and the knowledge come together to form a decision, but the ignorant person, the person with no knowledge, could never make that correct decision.
I find an illustration such as this, works better than a definition.

12 comments:

Hector Santillana said...

Nick, I would put in a simpler way. Information by itself is inert. Knowledge is information in action. Before information can become knowledge it needs to be used by someone and serve some kind of purpose.

Nick Milton said...

Thanks Hector

Personally I don't like to use any definition of Knowledge that is based on Information, as I am not sure that Information (as generally understood) is the primary basis for Knowledge. I would argue that Knowledge comes primarily from Experience, as I explained here http://www.nickmilton.com/2011/10/where-does-knowledge-come-from.html, tested here http://www.nickmilton.com/2012/04/where-does-knowledge-come-from-2.html, and expanded here
http://www.nickmilton.com/2011/07/knowledge-management-or-experience.html

Sandra Wullms said...

Nick, I think your explanation of the difference between information- and knowledge management is simple and to the point!

Yiqin Yu said...

If there's no help to action -- e.g. make decision, that data is just information. If we store the rules for decision making, for example what kind of geology possibly have gold, that data could be called knowledge.

freiza said...

Wow, I love you Hector Santillana. Brilliant answer.
I have watched over 10's of video on this topic but in vain.

Respect

Christel Steinvorth Fernandez said...

I think Nick is right in not wanting to delve too long on a definition. In fact, there is no single definition but many as this is still one of those perennial philosophical questions. Knowledge in action or knowledge for a purpose is what some have called a pragmatic definition of knowledge. An it might be that knowledge comes from experience but that doesn't define it but rather refers to the process through which it comes to be. I prefer a definition where knowledge is what at a given point in time we believe to be the case. That is to say that, even though there are some very "stable" facts, so to speak, a big proportion of what we call "knowledge" changes over time as society validates different methods to "prove" or give "evidence" that something is the case. My background is in philosophy and consequently I am very possibly commenting on this subject in a manner that "business" today finds impractical. For Jurgen Habermas, a German sociologist/philosopher, knowledge is consolidated in conversation, thus his theory of communicative action which I think permeates our current understanding of what knowledge is and, almost more importantly, how we in fact, come to generate it, that is, in communication with others.

Christel Steinvorth Fernandez said...

I think Nick is right in not wanting to delve too long on a definition. In fact, there is no single definition but many as this is still one of those perennial philosophical questions. Knowledge in action or knowledge for a purpose is what some have called a pragmatic definition of knowledge. An it might be that knowledge comes from experience but that doesn't define it but rather refers to the process through which it comes to be. I prefer a definition where knowledge is what at a given point in time we believe to be the case. That is to say that, even though there are some very "stable" facts, so to speak, a big proportion of what we call "knowledge" changes over time as society validates different methods to "prove" or give "evidence" that something is the case. My background is in philosophy and consequently I am very possibly commenting on this subject in a manner that "business" today finds impractical. For Jurgen Habermas, a German sociologist/philosopher, knowledge is consolidated in conversation, thus his theory of communicative action which I think permeates our current understanding of what knowledge is and, almost more importantly, how we in fact, come to generate it, that is, in communication with others.

Nick Milton said...

Hi Christel

I like your sentence "I prefer a definition where knowledge is what at a given point in time WE believe to be the case", and would stress the word WE. It is community, or as you say society, that validates what is knowledge and what is not, and that validation is what separates knowledge from opinion.

This is entirely practical in a business sense.

Farhad Shiri said...

Hi Nick,

Thanks for your explanation. Still I have a question in mind. When you talk to a group and you give them some facts; are you increasing their information or their knowledge? basically, you are giving them more information in layman's term; but, as you are giving them some facts, it could be knowledge either ! what do you think?

Anonymous said...

There may be an even simpler explanation. If I, as an expert, make a statement based on my chosen field of experience to a non expert. I, as an expert will understand the context and implications of my statement, thus 'knowledge'. To the non expert however, this statement will simply be 'information', as they don't have the experience to do anything more with it, that isn't just supposition.

Unknown said...

What is the relationship between knowledge and information

nelisiwe shiviri said...

What is the relationship between knowledge and information

Blog Archive