April 15, 2011 10 Comments
No, I am not going to repeat the argument so well put forward many years ago by Tom Wilson (The nonsense of knowledge management, 2002, http://informationr.net/ir/8-1/paper144.html), with which I largely agree. While Professor Wilson argues his case well, he largely comes to the conclusion that the term ‘knowledge management’ was formulated in order to cover a number of organisational managerial and communication issues, without much of a nod to – or even recognition of – the existing field of Library and Information Science, or Information Studies, or Information Studies, or whatever you want to call it. This poverty of nomenclature – the continuing disregard that we information professionals seem to have to clarity of expression – is at the heart, I believe, of many of the perennial issues and problems that fracture our field to no real purpose.
Wilson has, from time to time, referred back to ‘knowledge management’, reinforcing his point that, as a practice or field of study, it doesn’t really exist as a separate entity, as it is identical in process and conception to information management. What would help his argument enormously, I believe, is if he were able to use definitions for these terms (‘information’ and ‘knowledge’) that had achieved consensus in the field. Then, we would not have to explain to all of those involved in this field, many of whom are drawn from management, information systems, business studies, technology and so forth – exactly what it is that needs to be done in order to manage ‘knowledge’. We could perhaps even encourage these folk to take a look at the masses of research already completed in our field concerning precisely the issues with which knowledge managers now engage: assisting in the communication of ideas from one human to another. As I have written elsewhere (e.g. 2005 and 2007), I understand information professionals to be ‘information interventionists’: we intervene in the knowledge creation cycle.
The central issue, though, is that we importantly have not yet come to a widely accepted definition of ‘information’ or ‘knowledge’. By this I mean, rather more precisely, that we do not have an operational definition that works for our field and for the work we do. James Gleick, author of Chaos, inter alia, has now published a book on information: ‘Information: a history, a theory, a flood‘ (Fourth Estate, 2011) and one must admire him for his courage and ability to do so. Having said that, he does not move us forward to understand better what ‘information’ is. Neither does philosopher Luciano Floridi, who has written extensively on this topic and on the philosophy of information. However much the data-information-knowledge model (often represented in pyramid form) is criticised or maligned, this still remains the starting point, or mental model, for both authors. In Gleick’s case, the concept is further confused with information objects or entities, technology, networks and the new physics. I find the understanding of information in the new physics fascinating: Information: the new language of science is probably my favourite book on this subject. But this does not conceptualise the notion of ‘information’ in a way that is meaningful for those of us who wish to assist people to create their own knowledge by finding out what others have thought, created, felt, experienced and so on.
This is why I wrote a PhD thesis on the topic of defining information. What I found in my research, amongst many other interesting things, is the political nature of the definition and interpretation of information, and I believe it would be appropriate for us to pay more attention to such dimensions of the core of our discipline/profession.
[I can let you have a digital copy of this work: email me or make a note here].
- Knowledge Management: Creating a Social Intranet Where Employees Can Learn (socialmediatoday.com)
- Making Connections: the Social Object (dachisgroup.com)
- The Information, By James Gleick (independent.co.uk)
- REMINDER: I-Semantics 2011 – Call for Papers (semantic-web.at)
- Democratizing Information with Semantics (mkbergman.com)
- Library and Information Technology at UFV (libitufv.blogspot.com)
- Ambivalence (bulldozer00.com)