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 recognizing the complex challenges that arise from multiple stakeholder perspectives about data—for program planning, front-line service provision, performance measurement, program evaluation and fiscal administration—and resolving them through holistic methods of information system design.

After graduating from the University of Delaware, Derek spent six years in Central America working on journalistic and educational projects, followed by four years planning immigrant services and managing performance data at Queens Library. 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, 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 a 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.  

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

Semester Course
Spring 2015 PADM-GP.4117.001 Systems Thinking & Information Management

Managing data and information in human service, criminal justice and public health programs is fraught with complexity. This course will prepare students to participate constructively in decision-making regarding data management and information systems in client-serving organizations. Students will become familiar with:

- Perspectives about data typically associated with diverse stakeholder roles including: technologists, executive leadership, front-line workers and their supervisors, measurers of performance, evaluators, funders, and clients.

- The range of scenarios for acquiring information systems, and their challenges.

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

- The complex of problems that client-serving agencies face around competing internal priorities, reporting to external funders, acquiring information systems, integrating data across multiple programs, and managing change.

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.

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 service 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 2014 PADM-GP.4117.001 Systems Thinking & Information Management

Managing data and information in human service, criminal justice and public health programs is fraught with complexity. This course will prepare students to participate constructively in decision-making regarding data management and information systems in client-serving organizations. Students will become familiar with:

- Perspectives about data typically associated with diverse stakeholder roles including: technologists, executive leadership, front-line workers and their supervisors, measurers of performance, evaluators, funders, and clients.

- The range of scenarios for acquiring information systems, and their challenges.

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

- The complex of problems that client-serving agencies face around competing internal priorities, reporting to external funders, acquiring information systems, integrating data across multiple programs, and managing change.

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.

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 service 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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