Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom (DIKW): A Semiotic Theoretical and Empirical Exploration of the Hierarchy and its Quality Dimension

Sasa Baskarada, Andy Koronios


What exactly is the difference between data and information? What is the difference between data quality and information quality; is there any difference between the two? And, what are knowledge and wisdom? Are there such things as knowledge quality and wisdom quality? As these primitives are the most basic axioms of information systems research, it is somewhat surprising that consensus on exact definitions seems to be lacking. This paper presents a theoretical and empirical exploration of the sometimes directly quoted, and often implied Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom (DIKW) hierarchy and its quality dimension. We first review relevant literature from a range of perspectives and develop and contextualise a theoretical DIKW framework through semiotics. The literature review identifies definitional commonalities and divergences from a scholarly perspective; the theoretical discussion contextualises the terms and their relationships within a semiotic framework and proposes relevant definitions grounded in that framework. Next, rooted in Wittgenstein’s ordinary language philosophy, we analyse 20 online news articles for their uses of the terms and present the results of an online focus group discussion comprising 16 information systems experts. The empirical exploration identifies a range of definitional ambiguities from a practical perspective.


data; information; knowledge; wisdom; DIKW hierarchy; quality; semiotics; Wittgenstein; ordinary language philosophy

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ISSN: Online: 1326-2238 Hard copy: 1449-8618
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