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Facilitated Online Learning as an Interactive Opportunity





Planning and Conducting Information Needs Analysis (PACINA)


Briefing 2

 January 2005


Introducing the Information Audit



What is an Information Audit?

Probably the most useful definition of an “information audit” is derived from the landmark volume by Liz Orna, Practical Information Policies (1):

“A systematic examination of information use, resources and flows with verification by reference to both witnesses and documents, in order to establish the extent to which they are contributing to an organisation’s objectives”

Other definitions typically include the first elements of this definition while missing the vital tie-in with organisational objectives. So, for example, Thornton (2) defines information audit as "the process of discovering and evaluating the information resources of organizations with the aim of implementing, maintaining or improving management information systems". Similarly the consultancy company TFPL, which has acquired a substantive portfolio of information audit-related activities, defines the concept thus (3):

“An information audit is a systematic process through which an organisation can understand its knowledge and information needs, what it knows, the information flows and gaps”. (TFPL)


Finally, according to Buchanan and Gibb (4): "information audit is a process of discovering, monitoring and evaluating an organization's information flows and resources in order to implement, maintain and improve the organization's management of information".


From the point of view of this course it is regrettable that these three alternative definitions all miss the key identifying characteristic of the information audit – the imperative to match information needs against corporate objectives. Without this the activity becomes simply another user survey.


One interesting feature of the generic information audit toolbox is the tendency for commentators to use analogies derived from their particular disciplinary background. Some, for example, bring the discipline of records management to the process. Robertson (5, 6), while confirming Orna’s definition given above, draws on his accountancy background to draw correspondences between information audit and financial audit. Booth (7), similarly, evokes the healthcare domain in referring to “information pathologies” which the information audit is designed to identify, including “information haemorrhage”, “information anaemia”, “information thrombosis” and “information coagulation”.   



How is it different from information needs analysis, knowledge audit, communications audit and marketing audit?

During this course we use the terms “information audit” and “information needs analysis” interchangeably. Certainly they are similar enough for published reports of either to be evaluated using the same CriSTAL checklist (as we shall do later). However we should acknowledge that at least one expert, Susan Henczel (8) distinguishes between the two:

  • The needs analysis  - “a process by which information users are asked precisely what information resources or services they need to perform their jobs. It usually results in a list of resources that are required by each person or department, and can be used to rationalize acquisitions (determining what will be bought and who will it be bought for), delivery mechanisms (getting the right resources to the people who need them) and service levels (identifying who needs specific services and at what level)”.  

  • The information audit goes further in “not only finding out what information resources and services people need to do their jobs, but how those information resources and services are actually used. It looks at the objectives, critical success factors and tasks and activities of each group, business unit, department or section, and links them with the relevant organizational objective. It identifies the information that is required to support each task or activity”.


According to Henczel then, the authors above (excluding Orna) are describing an information needs analysis, not an information audit. Henczel goes on to identify a third related element, the knowledge audit:

  • A knowledge audit is “conducted to identify an organization's knowledge assets, how they are produced and by whom. If an information audit has already been conducted, a knowledge audit will also allow you to assign a level of strategic significance or importance to those knowledge assets using the organizational data already established. This ensures that you not only know what knowledge assets exist, but that you identify those that are critical to the success of the organization”.


However such distinctions are not universally agreed. In their Frequently Asked Question on “What is the Difference between an Information Audit and a Knowledge Audit?” TFPL affirm that “The difference is often semantic as both can cover the same elements” and continue that “the line between them is very fuzzy”.  However they go on to infer that “information looks at the explicit assets an organisation has in its documented and recorded information” while a “knowledge audit would look more specifically at the tacit information and knowledge of the organisation, that is the knowledge, information, expertise, experience and company know-how that its staff have in their heads”. We shall leave you to reflect on whether this is a useful and indeed workable distinction.

Finally you may encounter mentions of the “communications audit” and the “marketing (or pre-marketing) audit”. Basically these terms recognise that the methods used to audit flows and processes are broad enough to fulfil other specific purposes within the general context of knowledge management. You will thus find writings on such topics useful from a conceptual and methodological point of view. In any case, as Tracey Booth reminds us(10), such areas as marketing and communications could be considered part of our core business anyway!



Why is the information audit important?

Theakston (1998) explains that an audit intends to:

  • identify resources, services and information flows;

  • verify the existence of appropriate services;

  • rationalize and control costs;

  • improve the marketing of services; and

  • exploit the resulting improvements (11).



In this way a 'knowledge map' of the organisation documents both its recorded sources and the expertise and experience of its staff. This might include looking at projects in which they have been involved, their membership of external networks and their specific areas of interest and expertise.

The need for an information audit within your organisation is probably indicated if you recognise any of the following symptoms (12):

  • Financial resources wasted by many within the organisation by acquiring the same information due to lack of centralisation

  • Being unable to obtain the available / scattered information

  • Staff becoming victims of information overflow - No-one has time to select and appraise useful information

  • Many staff spending their time in searching for the same information

  • Same information being repeatedly requested by various departments within an organisation for different purposes

  • Inability to make quick decisions due to non-availability of ready-made information within the organisation

  • Time and money wasted on duplication of effort due to lack of certain information


Dubois, quoted by Theakston (11), argues that information audits are useful management tools which assist in the identification, costing, development and rationalization of information resources. He further states that the audit can also be used to determine how information staff members contribute to their parent organization. However as much of what we provide may be intangible be warned that this can work either in favour or against an information unit!



What are its benefits?

Benefits associated with information audits (2) include:

  • a comprehensive listing of an organization’s information sources;

  • the realization of the costs associated with the creation, storage and retrieval of information within the organization;

  • improvements in the services provided by the information centre; and

  • changes in the way information is handled and utilized including the sharing of information.



The Chartered Management Institute (13) further rehearses the following benefits in identifying:

  • what information is being circulated but not used to advantage

  • what information is required but not available

  • the differences between what is needed and what is available

  • what needs to be done to match demand with provision

  • how information is best delivered to its potential users.


The information audit also helps to break down a broad and elusive concept such as knowledge management into digestible, manageable projects without losing sight of the "big picture". Information audits also make it possible to identify the dynamic information flows within an organization - this provides a “dynamic video” rather than a “static snapshot” (14). It also helps you recognise what kind of information has been generated, and to find out gaps in information provision or missing links in the information chain.




What might it look like?


Jerry Ash of the Association of Knowledgework (15) suggests the following basic 12 questions:


  1. What does your organization know?    

  2. What doesn't it know?    

  3. Who needs to know it?    

  4. Who knows what?    

  5. Are they inside or outside the organization?    

  6. Do your leaders understand knowledge?    

  7. Do your leaders understand the value of knowledge?    

  8. Are they leading by example?    

  9. Does your organization systematically organize and transfer knowledge internally?    

  10. Is it systematically acquiring and sharing knowledge outside the organization? Are you creating new knowledge?

  11. Are you leveraging knowledge to benefit your members and the organisation? Do you measure, assign value to the knowledge asset?

  12. Is your work environment knowledge friendly?    



Can you describe an example?

A large-scale audit of 240 staff, ranging from the Chief Executive to the worker in the postroom, at the headquarters of a Regional Health Authority in one of the Thames regions featured use of an external team to oversee the audit and to train a team of internal auditors, a profile-raising information management day and the use of qualitative and quantitative data. Soft Systems Methodology was used to define four main information systems identified within the organization and a rich picture described pictorially the way information resources were currently perceived. Aside from the extensive data gathered in this way, organizational benefits included the development of a team of auditors, working across divisional boundaries, and placing information firmly on the agenda as a springboard for future developments (13).





Where can I find out more?


TFPL have developed an information audit tool called AutoInfoAudit for assessing your organisation's information management approach. They offer a free demonstration where, in return for feedback on the tool, you receive a short specific report outlining how your organisation can improve its information management practices.



Henczel, S. (2001), The Information Audit: A Practical Guide, Saur, Munich.


The Information Auditor: a weblog about information auditing and information needs analysis






Information Auditing: Reading List







Information Management Audit Guideline



Maclachlan, L (2002)

Managing Knowledge Successfully: From Information Audit to Knowledge Management. London:

Facet Publishing





McCracken C. Information audits: Illumination not enumeration







  1. Orna, L (1999) Practical Information Policies, 2nd ed. London: Gower Press. 

  2. Thornton, S. (2001), Information audits, In: Scammel, A., Handbook of Information Management, 8th ed., Aslib, London, 129-43.

  3. TFPL (2004) Information audits and knowledge audits. http://www.tfpl.com/advice/audits.cfm

  4. Buchanan, S., Gibb, F. (1998) The information audit: an integrated strategic approach, International Journal of Information Management, 19, 1, 29-47.  

  5. Robertson, G (1994) The information audit: a broader perspective, Managing Information, 1 (5): 34-36.  

  6. Robertson, G. (1997) Information auditing: the information professional as information accountant, Managing Information, 4 (5): 31-5.

  7. Booth A (1998). How to search for the evidence. Bulletin of the Royal College of Pathologists, 103, 44-57.

  8. Henczel  S (2001) The Information Audit as a First Step Towards Effective Knowledge Management. Information Outlook, 5 (6).  http://www.sla.org/content/Shop/Information/infoonline/2001/jun01/Henczel.cfm

  9. TFPL (2004) Knowledge Audit FAQs.  http://www.tfpl.com/faqs/info_knowledge_audit_faqs.cfm

  10.  Booth, T. Analysis of Information Needs.  


  11. Theakston, C., (1998), An information audit of National Westminster Bank UK's learning and resource centres", International Journal of Information Management, 18, 5, 371-5.

  12. Tapaswi MP Information audit : evaluating the need for an information centre.  http://ioc.unesco.org/oceanteacher/information/Course1/evaluating/informationaudit.htm

  13. Chartered Management Institute Carrying out an Information Audit. (Checklist 013) http://www.managers.org.uk/institute/doc_docs/CHK-0131370.pdf  

  14. Booth, A & Haines, M (1994) Information audit: whose line is it anyway? Health Libraries Review 10 (4) 224–232.

  15. Ash, J A Short Course in Knowledge Management . Cited in: Robson, C (2000) Towards A Knowledge Management Utopia? http://www.kwork.org/Resources/Clarekmutopia.pdf





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