Data Information Knowledge Wisdom (DIKW)

The information sciences might reasonably be thought to concern themselves with information, and many of us use the DIKW hierarchy as a fundamental, conceptual model for defining the boundaries and relationships between these associated terms. Indeed, much has been written in the literature on this simple structure, and it is readily digested so that practitioners can move on to the business of dealing with recorded information.

I have just encountered two texts, however, which suggest there is yet more to say, if philosophical debate appeals:

1) A recent paper in the Journal of Information Science (2009, vol 35 number 2, p131-142), by Martin Fricke, which argues that the DIKW hierarchy is unsound and methodologically undesirable.

“…The paper concludes with a sketch of some positive theories, of value to information science, on the nature of the components of the hierarchy: that data is anything recordable in a semantically and pragmatically sound way, that information is what is known in other literature as “weak knowledge”, that knowledge also is “weak knowledge” and that wisdom is the possession and use, if required, of wide practical knowledge, by an agent who appreciates the fallible nature of that knowledge.”

2) A book by social anthropologist Tony Crook (loaned to me by one of my students –thanks!), entitled “Exchanging Skin. Anthropological knowledge, secrecy and Bolivip, Papua New Guinea”. (2007, Oxford University Press).

Crook’s text concerns the Min region in western Papua New Guinea, and eludes to the serious challenges made to euro-american habits of thought, by Min knowledge-making practices. He attempts to resolve these challenges by suggesting that the Min regard knowledge as a person – he writes specifically about anthropological knowledge as ‘the textual person’.

“ …. having faked an incision into his left thigh by using his right hand, and telling me that he has opened his thigh and shown me his lamlam (knowledge, advice) inside, Dominicus Sulumeng presses his hands on my skin and insists that now his skin has gone onto mine, and that my skin has gone onto his: he says, having exchanged care for advice, that we are ‘one skin’. “ p29.

“In Bolivip, knowledge is composed through other people’s bodily resources [….], and ventures forth in the form of a person: in the way in which it influences and becomes part of other people, and with a ‘skin’ of its own, we might even conclude that, as a detachable analogue, ‘knowledge’ is itself a person.” p29.

I am not sure whether information and knowledge are the same “weak knowledge”, personified or otherwise, but it is good to exercise the brain.