The Knowledge Pyramid?

Keith May 23rd, 2007

(A brief breather in between job interviews…)  Following on from the “definition of knowledge” debate on actKM, there has now been discussion of the various “linear models” that relate knowledge to data, information and more.  One of the classics is:

Data – Information – Knowledge – Wisdom

This is also often shown as a pyramid, and there can be more layers – even including “enlightenment”.  The model implies “steps” from somehow inferior states to superior states.

I decided some time ago that I didn’t like the data-info-knowledge-xx hierarchy in any of its various forms.  It just doesn’t seem to me to be really helpful for any practical (or philosophical) purpose. 

I have had less of a problem with data-information as a first step, but I have been interested to learn from Joe Firestone and others on actKM that even my thinking on this one has been strongly influenced by having studied Computer Science.  (Disclaimer – I don’t work in IT any more!)

To me, knowledge by any (useful) definition has a whole range of facets not embodied in data or information – it is qualitatively different, and much more to do with cognitive processes. 

It has a lot to do with how we use information, but I also support the position that there are other types of knowledge apart from things we learn from “information” – cultural for one.  Then there are skills – when we learn how to drive a car, and then with practice do it automatically – is that knowledge?

The linear model also appears to be inconsistent in other ways – it is interesting to note that “data” is plural and “information” is singular.  But as I have said before, I am not really interested in strict definitions of these terms.

As a wild grab for a suitable metaphor, I see D-I-K-W as being as meaningful as:

Points – Plane – Geometry – Architecture

But maybe not – that still allows for an ordering of sets and subsets…

3 Responses to “The Knowledge Pyramid?”

  1. Bongon 24 May 2007 at 6:51 am


    I found you post in Technorati’s watchlist. I thought of giving comments. When you said, “To me, knowledge by any (useful) definition has a whole range of facets…” I thought of viewing it something like this: Data (subject), information (learning), knowledge (understanding), wisdom (meaning). That is, the data is driven by meaning for us to learn from it, understand it, and put it into practice. Think of the construct as pattern, a line. Edward Hampton said:

    “Data is simply a point of reality. By itself, it has no meaning. Think of a dot or a point. What does the dot or point tell us. Nothing. Not until we are able to make a ‘line’, i.e. add another ‘point’ can pattern start to develop.”

    As I view it, we start to develop a line from a point when we ask who, why, when, where, what, and how; and see bits of thought forms. Here the data is transformed into information. We tried to understand this information, know its meaning, and do the likely action. What is your stand on this?

    Kind regards,


  2. Keithon 24 May 2007 at 8:59 pm

    Bong -
    Thanks for your comment. I must say that I am not familiar with Edward Hampton, nor can I find him on Wikipedia. It seems that he supports the IT view of data as having no context. What I have been reading on actKM is that this is not the view of data normally held in other fields. In scientific research, data is the result of observation, and it thus includes context – it is not meaningless.


    Regardless of this, though, the main point of my post still stands. I have come to see any of these linear models as at least meaningless, and at worst misleading. The reference to “points” in my proposed model is oddly coincidental with your Hampton quote. My intention with this model was to highlight my position that such models are meaningless! (Incidentally, Hampton is only referring to data – he is not proposing a linear model.)

  3. [...] There has been a new discussion on the supposed data-info-knowledge hierarchy on actKM.  Patrick Lambe has summarised my thoughts: “The DIK pyramid is a nasty red herring and needs exploding.” [...]

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