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SFC’s Lynn Killick on how we can shape society through our approach to information.

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What I know about knowledge

As Donald Rumsfeld famously said:

“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know”.

As an information geek this is one of my favourite quotes and it is also a quote that sums up the messy world of equality, diversity and inclusion rather well.

When we rely on the known knowns, the evidence and experience and view of the world we are comfortable with, it is likely we will get the same outcomes that we have always achieved and very likely that our decisions won’t have the same impact on people whose experience and view of the world is different to our own.

Taking the time to uncover the known unknowns simply means that we are utilising the data or information that we already have at our finger tips in a more nuanced way. So in the context of the work at SFC the known known might be the gender split of students but the unknown known would be looking at the impact that ethnicity plus gender might have on subject choice or outcome. Sometimes it is a helpful prod from an outside source that prompts us to look at what we know differently. However, it is often the case that new questions come from new voices and this is where the benefits of a diverse workforce come in. Without diversity of thought, and new and different lenses, we won’t take the time to uncover the known unknowns, we will be stuck where we have always been and unlikely to make the progress that we need to make to benefit our own staff and the diverse workforce and student body at our colleges and universities.

The conversion of known unknowns into known knowns is really the process of changing data to information and applying insight to generate knowledge. Doing so just makes business sense, if we are going to collect information we are amiss if we don’t turn it into knowledge that we can use to improve our work and the outcomes for staff and students.

The unknown unknowns can only come to light when we mix our own knowledge with the knowledge and experiences of people who aren’t involved in our day to day work. Research and analysis is one way, particularly qualitative research that speaks to the experience of minority or marginalised groups.  A better way though is engagement and involvement. Real insight is gained by working with and talking to people who experience the world through a different lens from our own.

I am an inquisitive person so it is only natural that I want to bring the unknown knowns to the fore and unearth unknown unknowns. It is this inquisitive approach that has led me to approaching my information and policy work with a definite nod to inclusion. Working in the public sector we have a real opportunity to shape our society through our approach to information, the questions we ask, the information we present and importantly the insight from others that we seek.