Systems Thinking and Deep Data Literacy

PADM-GP.4117, 1.5 points.

Semester: Spring


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.


CORE-GP 1020

Semester Instructor Syllabus Link
Spring 2016Derek CoursenSyllabus
Spring 2015Derek CoursenSyllabus
Spring 2014Derek CoursenSyllabus
Semester Instructor Evaluation Link
Spring 2015Derek CoursenEvaluation
Spring 2014Derek CoursenEvaluation
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