Defining knowledge

There is no consensus on a definition of knowledge. We should note first of all that the term “knowledge” creates an ambiguity. In most theories of the knowledge society, any explicit, sociologically relevant definition of knowledge is absent (Qvortrup, 2006). As early as 1959, the English economist and organisation analyst Edith Penrose emphasised the growing importance of knowledge in economy, but in addition she admitted that the whole subject of knowledge is so “slippery” that it is impossible to get a firm grasp of it (Penrose, 1959, p.77; cited in Qvortrup, 2006).  Davenport & Prusak (1998) also note that „Knowledge is […] a slippery concept“.

Such authors as Davenport and Prusak (1998), Nonaka (1991), Polanyi (1997), and Nickols (2000) have made important contributions to the understanding of knowledge. Knowledge is a fluid mix of framed experience, values, contextual information, and expert insight that provides a framework for evaluating and incorporating new experiences and information. It originates and is applied in the minds of knowers. In organisations, it often becomes embedded not only in documents or repositories but also in organisational routines, processes, practices, and norms (Davenport and Prusak, 1998, p.5).

In business and organizational context knowledge is: Know-how: a mixture of insight, perception, experience, and foresight. A special blend of intellect and intuition that enables someone to “know how” to do something to determine the most appropriate action. Knowledge then is mainly collective experience of employees of an organization (Chaudhry, 2008).

Some definitions of knowledge:

  • Knowledge is what I know, information is what we know (Foskett, 1997).
  • Knowledge originates and resides in people’s minds (Davenport and Prusak, 1998, p.24).
  • Knowledge is organised information in people’s heads (Stonier, 1990).
  • Knowledge is the meaningful links people make in their minds between information and its application in action in a specific setting (Dixon, 2000).
  • Knowledge is the accumulation of everything an organisation knows and uses in the carrying out of its business (Smith & Webster, 2000).
  • Knowledge is experience. Everything else is just information, said Albert Einstein (1879-1955).
  • Knowledge is information in action (O’Dell and Grayson, 1998).
  • Knowledge is ‘information given meaning and integrated with other contents of understanding’ (Bates, 2005).









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