Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Data > Information > Knowledge > Wisdom

Image issued under licence > CC-BY-NC > David McCandless 2009

A weird thing happened today.

A couple of weekends ago, I was reflecting on some of the stuff that I'm teaching at the moment while reviewing material for the GCSE ICT exam I'm preparing my students for (one particular thing that they've struggled with, at least at the beginning of the course, is the difference between data and information). At the same time, I was also having a bunch of random thoughts about Wikileaks as I'm intending to write a longer piece on it in the not too distant future.

While these thoughts were running around my head, a shape gradually formed in my mind. It was a pyramid, with data at the bottom as the raw basis for things that we know. Information was above data - information can be described as what we have when we combine data with context and/or meaning. The learning of information leads to knowledge, whether of a subject, a situation or an idea. The pinnacle of this hierarchy is wisdom - to be wise is a high-status aim of many individuals and societies. I was quite pleased with having come up with this visualisation of...what? Couldn't quite figure out what it was a visualisation of. Human knowledge? Understanding? Aspiration? I left the pad I'd drawn it on alone for a while and came back to it to find T (my wife) had turned the pyramid into a Christmas tree.

Today, I was stumbling around on the 'Net inbetween classes and looked up David McCandless's data visualisation site (having recently bought the book and wanted to dig a little deeper). To my surprise, I came across a pyramid structured in exactly the same way, as shown above. By the looks of it, he too had not quite managed to articulate all of his thoughts about this hierarchy and had left some of the meaning open to others. Reading the comments on McCandless's blog, it turns out that the 'DIKW Hierarchy' has actually been around for quite some time - decades, in fact.

Perhaps I've come across it in the past myself and forgotten about it, thinking that it was an original thought. Either way, I think it'll help when I start with my second cohort of GCSE students later on this year!

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