Derek Coursen
Adjunct Assistant Professor of Public Administration

Derek Coursen has extensive experience leading the management of information across the human service, justice and public health fields. His focus is on how systems thinking can clarify and resolve the complex challenge of designing information systems in public service settings. Derek has published articles in academic and professional venues on techniques for producing rich data to simultaneously serve diverse and fluid stakeholder purposes: program planning, front-line service provision, performance measurement, program evaluation, and fiscal administration.

After graduating from the University of Delaware, Derek spent six years in Central America working on educational and journalistic projects, followed by four years at Queens Library planning immigrant services and managing the library system's performance data. In 1998 he joined the Vera Institute of Justice, where he formed and led a department that carried out software development and performance measurement projects in juvenile justice, child welfare, substance abuse treatment, ex-offender re-entry, healthcare advocacy, crime mapping, court automation, and the intersection of race and prosecution. Derek joined Public Health Solutions in 2007, and currently directs planning and informatics for the administration of a large portfolio of public health contracts on behalf of the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Derek is a member of the Board of husITa (Human Service Information Technology Applications). He has been an independent technical advisor to many initiatives, most recently Measures for Justice, a nonprofit organization that promotes common performance measures for the U.S. justice system; and Open Referral, a project of Code For America that aims to make information about human service programs easier to maintain, share, find and use.

Derek holds M.S. degrees in management (NYU Wagner), information systems (Pace University) and information and library science (Pratt Institute).

Semester Course
Spring 2016 PADM-GP.4117.001 Systems Thinking and Deep Data Literacy

Many roles in public and nonprofit organizations require staff to become sophisticated consumers, analysts and presenters of data. But before data can be used, it must first be specified and collected—and that is increasingly done via information systems.  This upstream area is rife with complex problems:

- it requires non-technological staff and information system developers to communicate effectively with each other;

- data and information systems are frequently an arena of contention among different stakeholder groups including executive leadership, front-line workers and their supervisors, measurers of performance, evaluators, and funders;

- information system projects are inherently risky.

This course will provide students with a deep level of literacy about upstream data so that they can be more effective stakeholders in information systems. The course teaches a set of practical techniques for looking under the hood of an information system and interpreting its data architecture in order to assess, and potentially enhance, the system’s ability to answer analytical questions from multiple stakeholder perspectives and to be modified as needed.

Students will become familiar with:

- the nature of relational databases and Structured Query Language (SQL);

- the tiered structure of information systems and its implications for labor and financial cost;

- the importance of logical data models and their relationship with taxonomies and definitions;

- strengths and weaknesses of the competing methodologies for developing information systems; stages of and roles within information system projects; and factors that contribute to success or failure.

The course includes readings from the systems thinking traditions which are helpful for understanding the diverse ways of construing the boundaries and nature of the organizational environment; for understanding the virtues, limitations and pitfalls of common approaches to information system development; and for designing more effective, holistic and evolvable information systems.


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Spring 2015 PADM-GP.4117.001 Systems Thinking and Deep Data Literacy

Many roles in public and nonprofit organizations require staff to become sophisticated consumers, analysts and presenters of data. But before data can be used, it must first be specified and collected—and that is increasingly done via information systems.  This upstream area is rife with complex problems:

- it requires non-technological staff and information system developers to communicate effectively with each other;

- data and information systems are frequently an arena of contention among different stakeholder groups including executive leadership, front-line workers and their supervisors, measurers of performance, evaluators, and funders;

- information system projects are inherently risky.

This course will provide students with a deep level of literacy about upstream data so that they can be more effective stakeholders in information systems. The course teaches a set of practical techniques for looking under the hood of an information system and interpreting its data architecture in order to assess, and potentially enhance, the system’s ability to answer analytical questions from multiple stakeholder perspectives and to be modified as needed.

Students will become familiar with:

- the nature of relational databases and Structured Query Language (SQL);

- the tiered structure of information systems and its implications for labor and financial cost;

- the importance of logical data models and their relationship with taxonomies and definitions;

- strengths and weaknesses of the competing methodologies for developing information systems; stages of and roles within information system projects; and factors that contribute to success or failure.

The course includes readings from the systems thinking traditions which are helpful for understanding the diverse ways of construing the boundaries and nature of the organizational environment; for understanding the virtues, limitations and pitfalls of common approaches to information system development; and for designing more effective, holistic and evolvable information systems.


Download Syllabus
Spring 2014 PADM-GP.4117.001 Systems Thinking and Deep Data Literacy

Many roles in public and nonprofit organizations require staff to become sophisticated consumers, analysts and presenters of data. But before data can be used, it must first be specified and collected—and that is increasingly done via information systems.  This upstream area is rife with complex problems:

- it requires non-technological staff and information system developers to communicate effectively with each other;

- data and information systems are frequently an arena of contention among different stakeholder groups including executive leadership, front-line workers and their supervisors, measurers of performance, evaluators, and funders;

- information system projects are inherently risky.

This course will provide students with a deep level of literacy about upstream data so that they can be more effective stakeholders in information systems. The course teaches a set of practical techniques for looking under the hood of an information system and interpreting its data architecture in order to assess, and potentially enhance, the system’s ability to answer analytical questions from multiple stakeholder perspectives and to be modified as needed.

Students will become familiar with:

- the nature of relational databases and Structured Query Language (SQL);

- the tiered structure of information systems and its implications for labor and financial cost;

- the importance of logical data models and their relationship with taxonomies and definitions;

- strengths and weaknesses of the competing methodologies for developing information systems; stages of and roles within information system projects; and factors that contribute to success or failure.

The course includes readings from the systems thinking traditions which are helpful for understanding the diverse ways of construing the boundaries and nature of the organizational environment; for understanding the virtues, limitations and pitfalls of common approaches to information system development; and for designing more effective, holistic and evolvable information systems.


Download Syllabus
Spring 2013 PADM-GP.2117.001 Information Management and Systems in Public and Nonprofit Service Organizations

The goal of this course is to prepare non-technical stakeholders working in the human service, justice and public health arenas to participate effectively in decision-making about information management practices and tools. Using a framework of general systems concepts to explore organizational and technical issues, the course will address how various roles—clients, front-line workers and supervisors, performance measurement staff, evaluators and funders—conceive of useful information; the challenges of developing information management capacity and acquiring information systems; and the context and implications of creating comparable measures and/or integrating data across multiple programs and agencies. The course is designed to enable students to understand differences between various stakeholder groups’ desire for and use of information; analyze the costs required to collect data and produce information; become familiar with the structure, development and customization of software; and the factors that contribute to success or failure. Students will also learn to understand the particular complex problems that client-serving agencies face around competing internal priorities, software acquisition, reporting to external funders, integration of data across multiple programs, and managing change; and learn how emerging trends in shared measurement and data integration may affect agencies.


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