The link between Data, Information and Knowledge is not as simple as the three being a linear progression. Knowledge is something you add to Information, rather than something that arises from Information.
As an illustration, consider the link between data, information and knowledge as they are involved in decision-making in a marketing organisation.
- The company pays for a market research survey, conducting interviews with a selection of consumers in several market segments. Each interview is a datapoint. These data are held in a database of survey responses.
- In order for these data to be interpreted, they need to be presented in a meaningful way. The Market research company analyses the data, and pulls out trends and statistics which they present as charts, graphs and analysis, such as the ones shown here. This is Information.
- However, you need to know what to do with this information. You need to know what action to take as a result. Such information, even presented in statistic and graphs, is meaningless to the layman, but an experienced marketer can look at it, consider the business context and the current situation, apply their experience, use some theory, heuristics or rules of thumb, and can make a decision about the future marketing approach. That decision may be to conduct some further sampling, to launch a new campaign, or to re-run an existing campaign.
The experienced marketer has ‘know-how’ – he or she knows how to interpret market research information, and how to act on it. They can use that knowledge to take the information and decide on an effective action. That know-how is developed from training, from years of experience, through the acquisition of a set of heuristics and working models, and through many conference and bar-room conversations with the wider community of marketers.
This know-how does not come from the information, it is added to it. The combination of the Knowledge and the Information leads to Action.
Knowledge which leads to action is ‘know-how’. Your experience, and the theories and heuristics to which you have access, allow you to know what to do, and to know how to do it.
In large organisations, and in organisations where people work in teams and networks, knowledge and know-how are increasingly being seen as a communal possession, rather than an individual possession. Communities of practice or regional sales teams have collective ownership of knowledge. Such knowledge is ‘common knowledge’ – the things that ‘everybody knows’. This common knowledge is based on shared experiences, and on collective theory and heuristics that are defined, agreed and validated by the community.
It is in the area of common know-how that Knowledge Management adds the greatest value to organisations.