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The distinction between information, knowledge and competence

by: Samarth Bansal | 3 June, 2022

The book Uninformed by political scientist Arthur Lupia provides an interesting framework to think about civic education that is applicable to everyone: journalists, advocacy groups, campaigns etc. 

Lupia says we need to make a distinction between information, knowledge and competence

If you can clearly define competence ie what are you trying to achieve: better voting? understanding of rights? explaining why policy A is good/bad? etc — you can analyse what subset of information is actually needed to drive that competence.

Once the specific set of information has been identified, how you communicate it determines whether people pay attention to it and increases their competence or they ignore it and move on.

For example, if your presentation and framing of the information goes against their deeply held values, it’s generally hard for them to engage with that information.

But if you recognise those fundamental values and instincts, you can present facts and information in a different way—that doesn’t immediately puts them away.

The larger takeaway is just producing more good information does not lead to desired changes. In journalism, most of the times, we don’t even know what are we trying to achieve, which leads to a great disconnect between what we think we are doing and what we end up doing.