Many organisations talk about being “data driven”. The reality, of course, is that data doesn’t drive organisations. It is simply part of a process where information from multiple sources is synthesised and contextualised to create knowledge. Which in turn can then be applied to a given situation, such as a business question or case.
Social media often provides good examples of the difference between information and knowledge. The most recent caused significant amusement among Twitter users. It featured a clip from a discussion programme, where an audience member questioned a professor from Imperial College London. “I’ve studied the data,” the audience member, a philosophy student, said, before attempting to tell the professor that he disagreed with it.
While it is easy to mock the disparate expertise levels involved, the exchange does underline the common problem of information being conflated with knowledge. The two are very different and need to be separated in order to better understand their application. Information is everywhere. It’s data, chunks and bytes of material that we can then place in a context and understand how it connects to other information. Doing so leads us to knowledge, which is much more useful and easier to apply.
Changing how you look at information, viewing it as a raw ingredient rather than the whole meal, is key to changing how you and your organisation manage knowledge.
Don’t put tomatoes in a fruit salad
Here’s an example. Take the humble tomato. We have the following data:
- A tomato is a fruit
- There are no tomatoes in the fruit aisle of the supermarket
- Tomatoes are kept in the vegetable aisle
Meanwhile, another user has already added the following data:
- Salad can either be fruit or vegetable
- Salad should generally not be fruit and vegetable
A third user has added the insight that
- tomatoes taste terrible with other fruits
Once you combine these pieces of data you come to the knowledge that you should not put tomatoes in a fruit salad. The key here is that this decision is built upon various single pieces of data from a variety of sources. Missing one of those might lead to other more ‘interesting’ culinary outcomes.
Having the data available in ways that you can find it and link it is a key part of enabling and speeding up the process of producing knowledge.
Building from Knowledge Atoms
Insightflow looks at how knowledge is constructed at a molecular level. We consider small chunks of information and data to be Knowledge Atoms. Those Atoms might not tell you much in isolation, but when combined with others, can begin to form knowledge. Much like their physical namesakes, Knowledge Atoms can be combined and recombined to create different types of knowledge.
Knowledge Atoms could be anything. They might be paragraphs from a PDF, sections from a webpage, or an audio or video clip. Equally they might be a specific piece of business intelligence or a statistic from other corporate information sources. The key factor is that they are all available and described in a way that they can be easily found. This then means that their original source is not only known, but captured and can be referred back to by any user or other team member.
Using a Knowledge Graph to connect concepts
In the example above, mapping the information you have allows you to connect data from 3 different users to answer your question about where tomatoes should be in your next summer buffet.
Connecting Knowledge Atoms at scale and seeing the context of both how they are used and where they originate allows you to understand in detail the information available to you across your organisation. In turn this speeds up the process of building knowledge and builds greater credibility in the decision making process.
Insightflow uses a Knowledge Graph to see the connections between Knowledge Atoms. The graph allows users to see the relationships between assets, or between groups of assets. This makes finding relevant material easier and faster, allowing users to combine and recombine data to build knowledge and meaning.
Recognising the connections people create with data and information allows you to identify clusters of connected evidence and then test the strength of those relationships. A Knowledge Graph highlights not only information which you and others know, it also highlights the gaps in your information, allowing you to search for and fill them in.
Understanding the difference between information and knowledge is a key step in accelerating your ability to turn one into the other. Not only will this improve your workflow, it will also speed up your ability to make decisions based on knowledge. Faster decisions mean faster action, which is paramount for most organisations.
The next time you’re shopping, imagine the items you buy as individual ingredients are individual pieces of knowledge which you then need to combine in order to make a meal. Or a report. Just try not to confuse the two during your next presentation…that would be a recipe for disaster.