What information is knowledge?

In defining what is knowledge, it seems that information is a building block. But then, what transforms information into knowledge? I am confronted by the assumption that knowledge should be based on scientific evidence. If we follow that argument, then whatever information I have accumulated that is not evidence-based cannot be knowledge? I am stuck!

Perhaps, it is more helpful to look at this question from another perspective – how do we use information? The way we use information has less to do with its scientific strength, but more to do with what is necessary for the task at hand. Different types of information, such as  tacit knowledge and experience, compete for our attention. Often, the scientific strength of knowledge is not enough for us to use it!

In a recent systematic review, it was proposed that the use of knowledge is influenced by its relevance, legitimacy and accessibility. Therefore, knowledge is more likely to be used if it is perceived as important and practical in a particular situation. However, this is always mediated by individuals, who have opinions, preferences and interests. An interesting point was made – that if an individual’s understanding of the implications of a piece of knowledge is in conflict with their own opinion or preference, then they may ignore or contradict the evidence. This is consistent with the concept of leakage from the pipeline of evidence, where clinicians who do not agree with or feel able to use the evidence will not do so!

Therefore, it seems important to recognise that the process of creating scientific knowledge for practice is not the same as the process of using scientific knowledge in practice. There is a third process, knowledge exchange or brokering that can facilitate this transition across what is commonly called the knowledge-practice gap. This suggests a collaborative approach between individuals who have the expertise to create knowledge (researchers) and those who are using knowledge (clinicians), where both are focussed on understanding the local context and the way the knowledge is being used, and specifically how the research evidence can compete with the other forms of information clinicians use.



I conduct and supervise research that promotes the translation of quality research evidence for use in clinical practice.

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Posted in evidence, information, knowledge
3 comments on “What information is knowledge?
  1. […] Associated media Knowledge translation insights from management What information is knowledge? […]

  2. Thomas Jones says:

    Accurate information, when viewed by a competent person, can then turn into knowledge…that then turns into an actionable event …that delivers or contributes to your goal. If a small child looked at a set of financial statements they would be meaningless, but to a trained accountant, he/she may say…wait a minute…this seems out of whack and do something about it.

    Now if the financial statements (in a foreign language and very accurate) were viewed by an accountant, they would not turn into knowledge as the viewer would not have the competency to read them. Therefore, in my world, knowledge is actionable information.

    • thanks Thomas for your comment and some useful examples,
      I agree with you that information needs to be both accurate and actionable for it to become knowledge; maybe even in that order – it needs to be accurate before action. However my challenge is to identify how we know that the information is accurate!

      I suspect that in financial accounting there are clear rules of convention and mathematics that confirm the acuracy of a financial statement – and then the final result (are the accounts in the red or black) will determine the broad direction of action. I know I have oversimplified here!

      However my experience of working in healthcare is that both patients and professionals are flooded with information – and it can be difficult to know which information is accurate. There are contradictions within published research, often because there are slight differences in the patients and treatment being studied.Professional organisations publish guidelines to support the experts who developed them. Drug companies advertise the positive effectes of their drugs without accurate descriptions of side effects.

      So when it is difficult to determine accuracy, it seems that we rely on other forms of information, such as our experience, local opinions, and sometimes commercial marketing to guide our actions. I wonder if there are other alternatives?

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