Information Flow Diagram Guidelines

There are some different interpretations under the term Information Flow Diagram, but they all start with the basic concept:

1.Basic Information Flow

The basic concept shows the flow of Information from a Source (here "A") to a Receiver (here "C") through some Medium (here "B"). By Medium we mean some means of transmitting the information - be it phone, email, written word, radio signal, or suchlike.

Information Flow Diagram

The concept also looks at the element of feedback: the reply or the response to the signal given out. These are the return paths, 2-way or bi-directional flows, as information passed on will most usually elicit a response.

This basic concept was initially used in radio transmission but nowadays, can be applied to any situation. It is especially useful when you are trying to analyse a particular situation or step you propose to do.

Information Flow Diagram

Personally I think it is extremely good to be aware that

- the signal you give out, is often not the one that is received. It's the same with the feedback message. Both could be distorted in every meaning of that word.

- Equally, when you receive a signal / message/ communiqué, are you getting the real intention of the message?

- To what level is the medium distorting your message? Do you know what the receiver is receiving?

2.Detailed Information Flow Diagram

What is a detailed Information Flow Diagram?

Peter Checkland, a renowned expert in management theory, defined information flows as the transfer between different components that make up a variety of systems.

He also defined a system as a “community situated within an environment”. See Systems Diagrams for a more information on the concept of a System.

You use the Information Flow Diagrams when you are defining the boundaries and scope of a system, the interactions with elements outside the system and the main flow within the system and its environment.

After determining the requirements on a system, you then use the diagram to document the results. The aim is to diagnose or map out which information is flowing where, between whom, when and how.

An IFD is a diagrammatic way to displaying how Information Flows

  • within an Organisation or
  • from Organisation to Organisation (also for example to Environmental, Legal or other regulatory bodies)
  • Inter-functional or Cross-functional
  • Internal departments and sub-systems (i.e. IT, HR, Q Systems, etc)

Why should you do a detailed IFD?

The purpose of IFD is for the analysis or display of sources of and the receivers of information. They will help show the forwarding of Information as well as being useful in the analysis of a situation concerning responses received.

A successfully carried out Information Flow Diagram will:

  • highlight gaps that need to be improved,
  • show up inefficiencies (i.e. Nonsense Reports) in Information,
  • uncover potential risks to information; think of Data Confidentiality, insecure systems, etc.
  • provide clarity about who should receive which information when, where and how,
  • display unsuitable medium that is being used.

How to do a detailed Information Flow Diagram

An IFD usually uses "blobs" or boxes to decompose the system and sub-systems into elemental parts.

Lines drawn between the blobs then indicate how the information travels from one system to another.

These Diagrams follow the same general format as a Functional Flow Diagram

The Blobs or Boxes represent sources and destinations of information.

Arrows represent the flow of information.

Note: Be sure to use a legend to indicate clearly what you are dealing with, so as any reader can easily interpret what you are trying to convey.

When do you usually use a detailed Information Flow Diagram?

You use an IF Diagram in any of the four following instances:

1. To determine the main flows of information within an organisation;

2. To achieve an overview; also to ensure that all flows are counted for and integrated into the landscape.

3. They can be used as a mapping of items as they are uncovered during an idea generation or fact-finding process. They can be a really accurate and efficient method of documenting these findings.

4. To develop a high level overview of how information generally flows or should flow in the organisation. It can also be used as a means to highlight detailed flows in an individual task or functional area.

3.Information Flow Diagrams at Intersections.

In particular, at intersections between processes or systems, indeed between function in an organization, this concept is extremely powerful.

In this instance you can take the area in concern, clearly defining the boundary. This boundary may be organizational, functional, systematic or of a process.

- Evaluate which information is needed as an input.

- Evaluate which information is needed as an output from the activities carried out in the area in question.

- Then taking your lists of inputs and outputs, analyse according to the following check-list:

Intersection IFD Checklist

Who receives the information inputs? Do they know what they have to do with it?

• Who composes the information that is passed on?

• Who passes on the information?

• Who authorizes this information, if necessary? How?

• When? How frequently? Are there specific deadlines? (to Inputs as well as outputs?)

• Why should this information flow? What is the purpose?

• What response is required?

• What reaction, if any, should take place? Is there a risk here?

• How should the information be passed on?

• How is the response received?

• How would you rank the information? Critical, not so critical, unnecessary even?

• Has all information that is required for this system or activity, function or organization been taken into consideration here?

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