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January 08, 2019

The Problem with the Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom Hierarchy

           February 02, 2010

The data-information-knowledge-wisdom hierarchy seemed like a really great idea when it was first proposed. But its rapid acceptance was in fact a sign of how worried we were about the real value of the information systems we had built at such great expense. What looks like a logical progression is actually a desperate cry for help.

The DIKW hierarchy (as it came to be known) was brought to prominence by Russell Ackoff in his address accepting the presidency of the International Society for General Systems Research in 1989. But the actual first recorded instance of it was in 1934:

Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in the information?

Those lines come from the poem “The Rock” by T.S. Eliot. (And for now we can skip over the 1979 reference in the song “Packard Goose” by Frank Zappa.) The sequence seems to have been reinvented in the late 1980s, independent of these poetic invocations.

The DIKW sequence made immediate sense because it extends what every Computer Science 101 class learns: information is a refinement of mere data. Information thus is the value we extract from data. But once the idea of information overload started taking root (popularized in Alvin Toffler’s 1970 Future Shock), we needed a way to characterize the value we extract from information. So we looked for something that would do to information what information did to data. Ackoff suggested knowledge as the value of information, and we collectively nodded our heads.

The Problem with the Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom Hierarchy

Posted by ACASA on January 8, 2019 at 01:35 PM | Permalink


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