Models are are useful until they are not
I know I have written about the data-information-knowledge hierarchy in the past. Many people still use it as a metaphor, but now it seems that it has outlived its usefulness. I came across it again in a new-to-me blog from Phil Green at Inmagic, Social media is challenging notions of the DIKW hierarchy. One of the biggest concerns in the hierarchical view of DIKW is that it reduces these human concepts to "objects" upon which computers can try to act. And it reduces human behavior down to computation, which isn't the case. This is also why it has been popular with the KM-as-technology lines of discussion.
The DIKW model is an easy way to describe the relationship between these concepts, but it breaks down when you put more critical thought into the question. The whole idea that one can be drawn from the other becomes difficult when you consider the connections of experience, domains, language, culture, social networks and the rest of human behavior. I left a comment on his blog that says as much too.
Dave Snowden - who has been rather vociferous in his condemnation of the DIKW model - wrote recently that It's information to date we need, not DIKW. And I like the simplified version that Eli Goldratt uses in The Haystack Syndrome: Information is the "answer to the question asked." If you have no question, there is no context or meaning, thus no information. And this handily avoids the question of knowledge, let alone wisdom.
As far as the proposed topic of Phil's post itself, there is one paragraph where he suggests the DIKW hierarchy metaphor is challenged by social media - and that he will be writing more in the future:
The DIKW model is a uniquely relevant topic as social technologies take hold and challenge not only the relationships between data, information, and knowledge within enterprise organizations, but also how information and knowledge is captured and transferred amongst your staff.
This is something that could lead down an interesting path. Maybe it will help develop a new metaphor for "what is knowledge" that doesn't give us such a simplistic, computational view of the world.
p.s. I note that the title of this post was also used by Steve Major in May, but I swear I've heard versions of this before.
[Photo: "Pirámide de Kefren - Khafre's pyramid" by Xavier Fargas]
Previous entry: Explicit work (#owork)