Data, Information, Knowledge and Wisdom

I just posted a reply to David McCandless on his blog ‘Information is Beautiful’ on the subject of the difference between data, information, knowledge and wisdom. David made a graphic based on this heirarchy of information, and also helpfully pointed out that these ideas have been around for a while. Here is his graphic:

I responded with some thoughts and an excerpt from Robert Logan, a Canadian physicist who has just written a book called ‘What is information?’ I have not actually read it yet but intend to soon (it is not yet available). Here is an excerpt from this book that breaks down these four categories:

Data, Information, Knowledge and Wisdom

There is often a lack of understanding of the difference between information and knowledge and the difference between explicit and tacit knowledge, which we herewith define in the following manner;

• Data are the pure and simple facts without any particular structure or organization, the basic atoms of information,

• Information is structured data, which adds meaning to the data and gives it context and significance,

• Knowledge is the ability to use information strategically to achieve one’s objectives,

• Wisdom is the capacity to choose objectives consistent with one’s values within a larger social context.

(Robert Logan, What is Information?,  2010)

Here is a quick graphic I just made (and not nearly as nice as McCandless’ but maybe I will give it a bit more attention later). I flipped the triangle because data is reductive. Wisdom is holistic.


The four levels of knowing (Data, Information, Knowledge and Wisdom) are similar to Gregory Bateson’s influential work ‘The Logical Categories of Learning and Communication’ published first in 1964 and then included in his book Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972). 

The idea that there are levels of learning and understanding has been an important theme in sustainable education. Dr. Stephen Sterling developed a staged theory of learning directly from Bateson’s work in his Phd – Information processing occurs at the different levels. We live in an information rich world, but information does not necessarily lead to understanding. Critical pedagogy practices have developed processes to help learners move from processing information to developing deeper understanding and capacity for action.

I am developing work around this theme in regards to the visual communication of ecological literacy. Learning about context, relationships, patterns and interdependence is part of moving from data to understanding. I have also made a pyramid to represent a movement from concrete information to metaphysics (based on Sterling’s work). See: and

More on this later.

One thought on “Data, Information, Knowledge and Wisdom

  1. The idea of flipping the standard triangle is an interesting concept.

    In the middle of reading Frank Leistner Book “Mastering Organisational Knowledge Flow; How to make knowledge sharing work” His definition of information and Knowledge makes understanding the concept extremely clear in attempting to understand Knowledge Management. He indicates that “once it is outside peoples heads it is mere information , not Knowledge any more” (Leistner Frank, 2010) it removes the grey area surrounding Tacit and explicit definitions and how we can attempt manage Knowledge.

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