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The Origin of Data Information Knowledge Wisdom (DIKW) Hierarchy

Article · April 2008with5,589 Reads
Abstract
The Data Information Knowledge and Wisdom Hierarchy (DIKW) has been gaining popularity in many domains. While there has been a lot of articulation of the hierarchy itself, the origins of this ubiquitous and frequently used hierarchy are largely unexplored. In this short piece we trace the trails of this hierarchy. Like an urban legend, it’s everywhere yet few know where it came from.
TheOriginofDataInformation
KnowledgeWisdom(DIKW)Hierarchy
NikhilSharma
[Updated:February4,2008]
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TheHierarchy
TheDataInformationKnowledgeandWisdomHierarchy(DIKW)hasbeengainingpopularityinmany
domains.InmostKnowledgeManagementliteraturethehierarchyisoftenreferredtoasthe“Knowledge
Hierarchy”orthe“KnowledgePyramid”,whilethe“InformationScience”domainreferstothesame
hierarchyas“InformationHierarchy”or“InformationPyramid”forobviousreasons.Oftenthechoice
between“Information”and“Knowledge”isbasedonwhattheparticularprofessionbelievestobe
manageable.
Whiletherehasbeenalotofarticulationofthehierarchyitself,theoriginsofthisubiquitousand
frequentlyusedhierarchyarelargelyunexplored.Inthisshortpiecewetracethetrailsofthishierarchy.
Likeanurbanlegend,it’severywhereyetfewknowwhereitcamefrom.
TheDomains
WhilethedomainsofInformationScienceandKnowledgeManagementbothrefertotheDIKWhierarchy,
theydonotcrossreference.Thustherearetwoseparatethreadsthatleadtotheoriginofthehierarchy.
InKnowledgeManagement,RussellAckoffisoftencitedastheinitiatoroftheDIKWhierarchy.His1988
PresidentialAddresstoISGSRisconsideredbymanytobetheearliestmentionofthehierarchy.Ackoff’s
presidentialaddresswasprintedina1989article“FromDatatoWisdom”[1]anditdoesnotciteany
earliersourcesofthehierarchy.
SearchingfortheoriginsofthehierarchyintheKnowledgemanagementdomain,wefindMilanZelenyto
beanearlierproponentofthehierarchy.Inhisarticleon“ManagementSupportSystems”[2],Zeleny
detailsouttheDIKWhierarchyin1987.ZelenybuildstheknowledgehierarchybyequatingData,
Information,KnowledgeandWisdomtovariousknowledgeforms:“knownothing”,“knowwhat”,
“knowhow”and“knowwhy”respectively.Yet,thetrailstopsagain,Zeleny’s1987mentionofthe
hierarchyisearlierthanAckoff’s1989address,buthealsodoesnotciteanyearliersourcesofthe
hierarchy.ItcanthusbearguedthatZelenywasthefirsttomentionthehierarchyinthefieldof
KnowledgeManagement.
ThedomainofdesignhasalsodrawnonandreferredtotheDIKWhierarchy.Almostatthesametimeas
MilanZeleny’sarticle,MichaelCooley’sbookpublishedin1987:“ArchitectureorBee?”[3],buildsthe
DIKWhierarchyduringhisdiscussionoftacitknowledgeandcommonsense.Onceagainnoearlierwork
iscitedorreferredtobyCooleyandtrailoftheoriginhasanabruptending.
ItisinInformationSciencedomainthatthetrailcanbepickedupagain.Herethehierarchyismentioned
asearlyas1982,whenHarlanCleveland[4]wroteaboutitinaFuturistarticle.Cleveland’sarticle
mentionstheInformationKnowledgeWisdomhierarchyindetailgivinganexample.Whatisdifferent
aboutthisarticlefromtheonesmentionedaboveisthatClevelandpointstothesurprisingoriginofthe
hierarchyitself.
TheOrigin
InterestinglythefirstevermentionofthehierarchyisneitherintheKnowledgeManagementfield,northe
InformationSciencedomain,butinanunexpectedplace:poetry.InhisFuturistarticle,Clevelandcites
T.S.Eliotasthepersonwhosuggestedthehierarchyinthefirstplace.Clevelandnamesit“theT.S.Eliot
hierarchy”.ThepoetT.S.Eliotwasthefirsttomentionthe“DIKWhierarchy”withoutevencallingitbythat
name.In1934Eliotwrotein“TheRock”[5]:
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information?
ThisisthefirstvaguementionofthehierarchythatwasexpandedbyCleveland.Thoughthisisthefirst
mentionofthehierarchyinthearts,itisnottheonlyone.Beforemanagementandinformationscience
caughton,FrankZappaalludedtothehierarchyin1979[6]:
Informationisnotknowledge,
Knowledgeisnotwisdom,
Wisdomisnottruth,
Truthisnotbeauty,
Beautyisnotlove,
Loveisnotmusic,
andMusicisTHEBEST.
BeyondEliot’shierarchy
InhisFuturistarticle[4],HarlanClevelandconcedesthatinformationscientistsare“stillstrugglingwiththe
definitionsofbasicterms”ofthehierarchy.HeusesElliot’shierarchyasastartingpointtoexplainthe
basicterms.Clevelandalsoagreesthattherearemanywaysinwhichtheelementsofthehierarchymay
bedefined,yetuniversalagreementonthemneednotbeagoalinitself.WhileClevelandhimselfdoesn’t
add‘Data’toEliot’shierarchyhementionsYiFuTuan’sandDanielBell’sversionsofthehierarchyinthe
articlewhichincludes“data”[4].
RussellAckoff’sversionoftheDIKWhierarchyhasanother“layer”of“understanding”builtin.Thus
Ackoff’shierarchyisDataInformationKnowledgeUnderstanding&Wisdom.“Understanding”requires
diagnosisandprescription,whichAckoffconsiderstobebeyond“knowledge”butbelow“wisdom”.
Discussingthetemporaldimensionofhisversionofthehierarchy,Ackoffpointsoutthatwhileinformation
agesrapidly,knowledgehasalongerlifespanandunderstandinghasonlyanauraofpermanence.Itis
wisdomthatheconsiderstobe“permanent”inthetruesense.
ZelenyalsoproposesadditionstotheDIKWhierarchy.Accordingtohim“enlightenment”shouldbeonthe
topofthefamiliarDIKWframework[2].Enlightenment,accordingtoZeleny(personalcommunication,
October29,2004)“isnotonlyansweringorunderstandingwhy(wisdom),butattainingthesenseoftruth,
thesenseofrightandwrong,andhavingitsociallyaccepted,respectedandsanctioned.”
Acknowledgements
GeorgeFurnassuggestedthisessay.MilanZeleny,AdamKeenandPaulLinkprovidedimportant
feedback,pointersandreferences.
References
1. Russell.L.Ackoff,“FromDatatoWisdom,”JournalofAppliedSystemsAnalysis16(1989):
39.
2. MilanZeleny,“ManagementSupportSystems:TowardsIntegratedKnowledgeManagement,”
HumanSystemsManagement7,no1(1987):5970.
3. M.Cooley,ArchitectureorBee?(London:TheHogarthPress,1987).
4. HarlandCleveland,“InformationasResource,”TheFuturist,December1982,3439.
5. T.S.Eliot,TheRock(Faber&Faber1934).
6. FrankZappa,“PackardGoose”inalbumJoe’sGarage:ActII&III(TowerRecords,1979).
Contactinformation
NikhilSharma,UserExperienceResearcher,GoogleInc.(nsharmaATumichDOTedu)
  • ... As matter of fact, several businesses from a broad scenario, such as artificial intelligence, anthropology and human sciences, information science and technology, biology, engineering, business management and economy, education and of course philosophy and epistemology have contributed to the discussion of the DIKW hierarchy, sometimes providing very similar arguments notwithstanding their very different perspectives. According to an " historical " research on the origin of the DIKW hierarchy by Sharma [35], the first authors to explicitly engage a discussion on the meaning of and relations between data, information, knowledge and wisdom are coming from the two domains of KM, design and Information Science. Nevertheless they followed separate threads and never cross-referenced. ...
  • ... Günümüzde bilginin sahip olduğu farklı düzeyleri ve süreçleri ifade etmek için bilgiyi tanımlayan farklı kavramlar kullanılmaktadır. Bu kavramlar veri (data), enformasyon (information), bilgi (knowledge) ve bilgeliktir (wisdom) (Cleveland, 1982;Ackoff, 1989;Bellinger, Castro ve Mills, 2004;Sharma, 2008bilen etken olduğu sürece bilginin sınırları ister öz biliş olsun ister meta biliş olsun, anlam ve varlık bulduğu ortamın sınırlılıkları ile aynı olacaktır. Ancak, semantik unsurlar geliştikçe, ağ üzerinde edilgen yapıda bulunan bilgi gittikçe etken bir yapıya dönüşecektir. ...
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  • ... Very often information is confused with the data, even in dictionary of polish language, definition describes information as data processed by a computer, and the concept of data is the term "information processed by the computer." It is misleading because, according to the concept, presented by Sharma, the data are the first step in the pyramid of information DIKW Hierarchy (D – Data, I – information, K – Knowledge, W – Wisdom) (Sharma, 2005). As follows from the presented pyramids, data are streams, that are being converted into information, through information we obtain knowledge, which translates into our wisdom and understanding. ...
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