An Information Manager, a Database Owner and an Archaeologist walk into a bar…

First of all welcome to my first blog post. My intention with this is to create a space to talk about information management particularly in relation to the cultural heritage sector. There won’t be regular cycle of updates just as and when there is something I’d to discuss.

I’ve been mulling over something since the Institute for Archaeologists’ (IfA) annual conference in Oxford in April (http://www.archaeologists.net/conferences). I was struck by how the terms data, information and to a lesser extent knowledge were used interchangeably by speakers in a number off sessions. The exception being the session organised jointly by Edmund Lee and myself on behalf of the IfA’s Information Management Special Interest Group (IMSIG) (http://ifa-information-management-sig.wikispaces.com/Where%27s+IT+All+Going+2%3F), which is probably not so surprising. Should I be concerned? Is this just semantics or are there more important subtleties that some in this sector aren’t picking up on? Is this a more general issue with other professions? Starting out as an archaeologist and drifting into information management I can’t speak for other areas.

I don’t want to go into detail about the subtle nuances between information and data this has been written about at some length by those better placed to discus them than me. I’d recommend taking a look at the paper written for the Data Management Specialist Group of the BCS by Keith Gordon (http://www.dmsg.bcs.org/web/images/stories/PDFs/information-or-data-2011-03-31.pdf). Like Keith I think the definition of information as data in context is too limiting. Keith goes on to show with the aid of flow diagrams how data is a re-interpretable representation of information which once put into a form that can be used by ‘the business’ it once again becomes information. I see similarities here to the work the team I manage do, breaking down information from differing sources then combining and re-interpreting the resultant data to produce new information in the form of records about historic environment assets.  

So then what is knowledge? At the IfA conference knowledge seemed to be primarily used in relation to traditional publication. Knowledge and knowledge management to me means far more than books or internet publication such as this blog. It encompasses pedagogy and the dissemination of information as well as the how. Teach someone to interpret themselves instead of interpreting for them each time, bringing us back to the breaking down and re-interpretation of information and data. If we accept that information is the re-interpretation of data, then knowledge can be seen as the facilitating of information. Things which archaeologists are very skilled at.

Oh and the three people in the title…they are all me with different hats on.

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About martininfoman

Information Manager specialising in the heritage sector and Archaeologist. This blog is about all things concerned with the curation of information about the historic environment and wider issues around IT, data, information and knowledge management. Full Member of the Institute for Archaeologists and the BCS, and a CILIP chartership candidate. All views are personal. Twitter: @MartinInfoMan
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