The flaws of DIKW

One of my constant bugbears in KM theory is the use of DIKW, or the pyramid of data, information, knowledge, and wisdom.

The idea is that a "refining" process takes place at each layer of the hierarchy. So: refined data becomes information, refined information becomes knowledge; and refined knowledge becomes wisdom. I personally feel the model is, at best, only really applicable in a few limited domains and even then it is problematic.

I have two main two objections to the theory:

  • Linearity and delineation: I can't see how the creation of art or undertaking of original scientific or legal research can fit into such linear, separable stages. These processes tend to have eddies, currents, and wave-like patterns that are ambiguous in their purpose, despite achieving substantial results over time.
  • Subjectivity: All of the definitions used to split data, information, knowledge and wisdom are subjective. For example, many people claim that wisdom is the "ability to make decisions based on knowledge". But you could equally say that knowledge is the "ability to make decisions based on information". How is it possible to reasonably assign things repeatably to each of these definitions when they overlap so much?

    At the root of it all, qualitative descriptors are weak theoretical tools. Some level of quantification is necessary to allow hypotheses to be created and results predicted. And if DIKW doesn't help us make predictions, then it is at best a metaphorical communications tool and at worse it's dangerously misleading to people who want to make a difference.

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