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Monday, May 5, 2008

Information Management Principle #1: Information cannot be managed

3:14:00 PM Posted by Oscar Berg , , No comments
This is the first in a series of posts where I will address a number of important principles for information management. If you let your information management strategy rest on these principles, it is much more likely that you will identify the real information management challenges that your organization is facing and to address them in the right wat. In short, it will make sure that you focus on the information needs of people and avoid getting lost in the technology swamp.

Principle #1: Information cannot be managed

The discipline of Information Management is often confused with the disciplines of Content Management and Data Management. I believe this happens because key concepts such as knowledge, information, content and data have not been properly defined or used in a consistent manner. The terms representing these concepts are often used as if they are synonyms and thus interchangeable. The result can be that important questions are not addressed, at least not in the right way. Here are definitions of the concepts mentioned above:
  • Data is content that has been structured so hard (in order to be stored and accessed in an efficient way) that it does not provide enough of context to be usable on its own. It needs to be aggregated, formatted and described to be usable.
  • Content is something that is indented to communicate a message (information, something about something) from a sender to one or several receivers e.g. a diagram, document, picture or movie. The purpose of the message (e.g. the communication process) can be to inform the receiver about something and/or to create an experience. Digital content is formatted and described in a way that it can easily be managed and delivered to the receiver by means of information technology – over time and space.
  • When perceiving and interpreting content which is intended to inform the receiver about something, the receiver will hopefully “get the message”. In other words, the content is transformed into meaningful information by cognitive processes in the receiver's head.
  • When the receiver reflects and applies the information, it can be transformed into knowledge.

What these definitions tell us is that data and content can be managed with the means of (information) technology, but that we cannot manage information and knowledge with technology. This is because information and knowledge exist only in our own heads. What we can do however is to try to conceptualize what we know and encoded it into content - text, images, sound and video. We can also try to identify the intended receivers and make the content available to them. But we cannot guarantee that they will understand what we are trying to say to them or that they will act as we want them to even if they do understand. We can only hope that they get our message and that it is persuasive enough and that they have the motivation required to act as we want them to.

Acknowledging that information and knowledge cannot be managed with technology is important if we want to support people so that they share their information and knowledge with each other. First of all, it allows us to focus on what we actually can manage by means of technology; how to manage various forms of content and how that content is then made accessible to the right user in an efficient way. Secodly, it tells us that we must focus more on creating an environment which encourages people to share information and knowledge with each other and help them develop their communication skills.

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