Data, Information, Knowledge and transfers (or what I already know about knowledge part 3)

Ok, so… How does knowledge differentiate from data and information? It is clear for most people that knowledge is different from those two, even though the very same people may not notice it. They speak of knowledgeable people but not of knowledgeable data-bases or books. Knowledge is essentially different from the previous two.

Data is data and it doesn’t make any difference to anybody. Information is data that does make a difference (Drucker apud Davenport and Prusak, 2000). So there is a social dimension in the difference. When you send me some data it might make a difference on the way I face or decide about the topic. If it affects, it’s information; if it doesn’t affect, it’s simply noise – useless data. And that’s where knowledge comes into play.

When I decide if that piece of data makes a difference or not, I’m using knowledge: articulation of know-what’s, know-why’s, and know-how’s – perhaps calling some of my social contacts and so using know-who’s – to interpret the situation and decide. That’s why knowledgeable people exist and not books. Books can’t decide, or transform, or create anything.

In a world where innovation (generated from knowledge interaction) is so important, sharing this power of deciding, transforming, and creating in order to do so better is vital. Therefore, all types of organizations world-wide are addressing the issue of increasing this interaction. The question is how.

It important to classify those knowledge-types in two categories used by the literature: codified and tacit. The first refers to the types of knowledge that can be transferred through symbols and languages such as music scores, scientific papers, engineering schematics, books and such. Here are the know-what and know-why types of knowledge.

The second category, tacit knowledge, refers to those types of knowledge that you can’t dissociate from its owner. It is embodied in the knower. Transfer is done through apprenticeships and coaching relationships. Here are found the know-how and know-who types of knowledge. Know-who in particular is hardly transferred through a business card because it involves trust, something that can’t be bought, “and if it could, would have no value whatsoever” (Lundvall and Johnson, 1994).

However, Lundvall, Johnson and Lorenz (2002) argue that there is hardly a situation where it is possible to dissociate one type of knowledge from the other:

One of the most interesting and profound analyses of the role and development of know-how focuses on the scientist’s use of skills and personal knowledge (Polyani, 1958/1978). Even finding the solution to complex mathematical problems is based on intuition and on skills related to pattern recognition which are rooted in experience-based learning rather than on the carrying out of a series of distinct logical operations (Ziman, 1979, pp. 101-102). Parts of know-how may be possible to articulate and parts of it may be codifiable, but there will always remain irreducible differences between the skills of a heart surgeon and the code book she uses (Lundvall, Johnson, and Lorenz, 2002).


DAVENPORT, Thomas; Prusak, Laurence (2000): Working Knowledge: How organizations manage what they know. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
LUNDVALL, B.A.; Johnson, B. (1994): The Learning Economy. Journal of Industry Studies, Volume I, Number 2.
LUNDVALL, B.A.; Johnson, B.; Lorenz, E, (2002) Why all this fuss about codified and tacit Knowledge? Industrial and Corporate Change, No 2, pp. 245-62


3 Respostas to “Data, Information, Knowledge and transfers (or what I already know about knowledge part 3)”

  1. Ricardo Says:

    Data is data? You shouldn’t refer to the term of your concept to define or clarify it. It is a circular definition. To quote from Wikipedia, referring to one of Münchhausen Trilemmas: “a logical circle in the deduction, which is caused by the fact that one, in the need to found, falls back on statements which had already appeared before as requiring a foundation, and which circle does not lead to any certain foundation either”.

    Also, how is knowledge different from data and information? You only said how people use knowledge when dealing with whether data is relevant or not, i.e., whether it is information or not to them. Moreover, why are these distinctions important? In what context do you need to clarify the differences?

  2. Ricardo Says:

    By the way, I also recommend that you take a look at Polanyi’s book, The Tacit dimension. He is the author that conceptualized “tacit knowledge”, back in the 1950s.

  3. marcelolage Says:

    Ricardo, I said data is data in this post because I had already explained in a previous one what it is and how it differs from information. (

    Knowledge was also defined here:

    That’s why here I do not focus on these distinctions but rather on transferability issues and the difference between knowledge and the previous two.

    Nevertheless, I appreciate the comments regarding context. And yes, I’m searching for Polanyi’s book already. And also some other pedagogues to better address the issue of learning. Thanks once more and keep bringing your comments!

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