DIKW Pyramid - Revisited

1.2 DIKW Pyramid - Revisited


The academic community around the globe has spent a considerable amount of efforts to clarify what constitutes data, information, knowledge and wisdom. Many definitions of these concepts with some variations have been reported in literature. In fact these variations emerge due to the backgrounds of the authors and the specific aims they pursue.

            Conventionally, the relationship between these terms is illustrated in the shape of a pyramid; shown in figure 1. This pyramid is known as DIKW pyramid and frequently used by knowledge management (KM) scholars. In this pyramid base represents ‘data’, followed by information, then knowledge, and wisdom at the top. The DIKW pyramid hierarchy illustrates that large amounts of data can be distilled to a smaller quantity of information. The range of information can be further distilled into a limited amount of knowledge and then further distilled into wisdom.

            The visual metaphor of DIKW pyramid is controversial. Firstly, the relation from knowledge to wisdom is found to be too vague. When and how does knowledge become wisdom? Secondly, who is going to decide that the higher aspects are more valuable; that knowledge is more valuable than information or data and that wisdom is more precious and valuable than knowledge (Stenmark, 2001). Thirdly, the pyramid provides a view of a one-way direction of progress, from data to wisdom. But, there is also a feedback down the pyramid (Jennex, 2009), since our pre-existing knowledge guides which data to collect and how to measure or assess it (Tuomi, 1999). Fourthly, the pyramid seems to assume that all knowledge is precise and always originates from data and information, i.e., it provides a too simplified picture of the relations.

            It is important to note that the pyramid visualization disregards knowledge coming from sources like learning, experience and intuition. Making sense of data and information is a process of reflection that is formed in the mind of the interpreter (Schön, 1995; Stenmark, 2001).  For example, in organizations, the skills are often learned through practice and experience, and not so often through reading information sheets, because often the documented information is insufficient to convey the necessary knowledge.

            Therefore, Jennex (2009) has argued that DIKW pyramid is too basic and fails to represent reality. He proposed that knowledge management with a focus on organizational learning should be included in this pyramid.  Due to such deficiencies, Ackoff (1999) extended the DIKW pyramid through classifying contents of human mind into five categories:

  1. Data: symbols
  2. Information: data that are processed to be useful; provides answers to "who", "what", "where", and "when" questions
  3. Knowledge: application of data and information; answers "how" questions
  4. Understanding: appreciation of "why"
  5. Wisdom: evaluated understanding.

            Ackoff (1999) argued that the first four categories relate to the past; people deal with what has been or what is known. Only the fifth category, wisdom, deals with the future because it incorporates vision and design. With wisdom, people can create the future rather than just grasp the present and past. But achieving wisdom isn't easy; people must move successively through the other categories. In following sub-sections we will explain each category in little detail.