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Saturday, 29 November 2014

Strive for Knowlege, not just Information

In my professional life, I occasionally find myself explaining to people the difference between data, information and knowledge.  Whilst some people, erroneously, use these terms interchangeably, they are in fact completely different.  Broadly, the definitions, are as follows:
Data: objective facts or observations, which are unprocessed and therefore have no meaning or value due to a lack of context and interpretation.
Information: organised data, which has been processed so it now has relevance for a specific purpose or context.  It is therefore useful and relevant.
Knowledge: contextualised information, expert insight and intuition formed of experiences and values which can be used as a framework for evaluating new information.
So, why is this important?

The System of Car Control, as taught by the IAM, rightly states that the information phase should encircle all other phases and be a permanent part of our driving plans.  However, whilst information is useful, what we need to aim for is knowledge.


Applying the above definitions to the public highways we can see that items such as road signs, road markings, brake lights on the car in front etc. are just data.  Unless we can organise that data, understand what it is telling us (hence the importance of the Highway Code and Know Your Traffic Signs publications) and process it in a specific way, it will never be information.  Our roads are full of data, some of it intended (such as road signs and markings) and some unintended (such as skid marks near a corner, or a gap in hedging on a bend), and it will not all be useful 100% of the time (a sign warning of a school may not be as vital at 3:30pm on a Sunday afternoon as it is at 3:30pm on a Monday afternoon), so it is up to us as users of the data to decide what we need to turn to information.

We should not stop here though.  A key part of advanced driving is the concept of a "driving plan", formed out of three key questions: "what can be seen", "what cannot be seen" and "what can I reasonably expect to happen".  The last question is where knowledge comes in.

Knowledge, as we know from the definition above, is contextualised information combined with experience and insight.  Knowledge is the "what am I going to do about it" part of the driving commentary that observers and examiners like to encourage associates to practise.  It is knowledge, not information, which makes us advanced drivers.

Taking the above example of a school sign.  At 3:30pm on a Sunday afternoon I would expect the commentary of an advanced driver to be something along the lines of:

"Sign warning of school children ahead.  Mirror.  No cars behind me and, since it is a Sunday afternoon, I do not expect there to be any children present."

However, that same time on a Monday:

"Signing warning of school children ahead.  Mirror.  No cars behind me but, due to the time of day, I am anticipating both children and parked cars around the corner.  Checking speed and increasing the gap between me and the car in front in case it needs to stop suddenly."

Both drivers saw the same data, both processed it into information and knowledge but the actions were different because the context in which it was received was different (i.e. day of the week).

So, the next time you're out on the road ask yourself whether you're going to use knowledge or just receive information.  All drivers have access to the same data, what makes us - as advanced drivers - stand out is how we process it and use it to our advantage.

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