What are data, information, and knowledge?

Last Updated November 26, 2018

Data, information, and knowledge are often used interchangeably. However, these terms represent different stages of value creation from data to decision-making.

Data are the raw alphanumeric values obtained through different acquisition methods. Data in their simplest form consist of raw alphanumeric values

Information is created when data are processed, organized, or structured to provide context and meaning. Information is essentially processed data.

Knowledge is what we know. Knowledge is unique to each individual and is the accumulation of past experience and insight that shapes the lens by which we interpret, and assign meaning to, information. For knowledge to result in action, an individual must have the authority and capacity to make and implement a decision. Knowledge (and authority) are needed to produce actionable information that can lead to impact.

The flow and characteristics of these terms are illustrated in Figure 1 and Table 1. Table 2 provides examples of data, information, and knowledge for water data.

Figure 1: The flow from data to information to knowledge.


The flow from data to information and knowledge is not uni-directional. The knowledge gained may reveal redundancies or gaps in the data collected. As a result, an actionable insight may be to change the data collected, or how those data are converted into information, to better meet user needs.

Table 1: Characteristics of data, information, and knowledge (adopted from de Vries 2018).


Table 2: Examples of transforming water data to information to knowledge that leads to action.