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information. Unlike information and data, knowledge is bound to individuals. It is constructed by individuals and represents their beliefs and causal relationships. Therefore, knowledge is dynamic; it is fluid and ever-changing. There is a lot of it that is intuitive and mutable. It is expressed through use in a moment of making, deciding, teaching, or learning. Knowledge can often be captured and structured.

In research or knowledge production data, information, and knowledge are complementary and depend on one another. The availability of relevant data that can be appropriately contextualized is critical to knowledge production. Knowledge provides a person who has the know-how, the ability, and skill to make judgments and act on given problems.

We should focus on analysis and understanding of data, instead of simply emphasizing the technology, as Chrisanthi Avgerou states.1 If data were not contextualized, they would be meaningless. They must be transformed into information. For example, although an individual may recognize a series or set of numbers, those numbers must be organized. A group of numbers that are not organized is useless. If the set of numbers were organized in a spreadsheet, for instance, and were labeled as food production statistics over a number of years for different countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the data would become useful information. The individual could then ascertain the status of food production in the southern African region. With know-how and skill the individual could manipulate those data and forecast the future of food production and usage in the region. The ability to analyze the data and put them into context is of particular importance.

Individuals, groups, organizations, and governments require information and data to make decisions. Information communication technologies (ICTs) are critical for providing different channels for communicating and sharing relevant data. Some of the information used for decision making is internalized within individuals themselves because they know the information. The individuals and data may be very localized within a particular region. Often however, human problems, organizational decisions, and government alternatives are too complex to be dealt with simply by one’s internalized or localized information and knowledge. They require different types of data, information, and knowledge from a variety of sources because of the complexity and the multidisciplinary nature of the problems, particularly in developing countries. There is a need for data and information to be shared across regional borders.

An example is the issue of genetically modified maize. The decision by the southern African governments of Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe to use it depends entirely on their basic understanding of what the issues are and how its use may affect their people. Without that clear understanding and contextualization it is extremely difficult to make an informed and appropriate decision. In order to provide relevant data and information researchers should understand the various needs of the people and the various contexts within which the information is used.


Basic research, as defined by Frascati Manual, is experimental and theoretical work undertaken primarily to acquire knowledge of the underlying foundation of phenomena and observable facts without any particular application to use in view.2 Research and development defined by the same manual is creative work that is undertaken in order to increase the stock of knowledge and the use of this knowledge to devise new applications.3 It is dependent on existing knowledge, which in most instances is basic research and information.

A strong base of research within a particular country or continent, such as Africa, is critical. Basic research and the environment for research in higher education institutions provide the laboratory and the place where the expertise can be generated. People at these institutions learn the basic skills for identifying and investigating natural phenomena and scientific problems, as well as interpreting and analyzing data.


See Chapter 10 of these Proceedings, “Information Technology and Data in the Context of Developing Countries,” by Chrisanthi Avgerou.


Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). 1994. The Measurement of Scientific and Technical Activities: Standard Practice for Surveys of Research and Experimental Development—Frascati Manual 1993, OECD, Paris.



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