I’ve led the informatics departments for two major nonprofit organizations in New York City—
the Vera Institute of Justice and Public Health Solutions—that help government agencies deliver and enhance public services.
I’ve written extensively about good practices that can resolve the challenges inherent in public service data. My work has appeared in the peer-reviewed Journal of Technology in Human Services, the leading practitioner publication Data Administration Newsletter, and my own blog Human Service Informatics.
I’ve also been adjunct faculty at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service, teaching future leaders to use systems thinking and to become more deeply literate about data.
I develop information system strategies, facilitate their implementation, and design data architecture to undergird them.
In many projects, I’ve laid the foundations for new information systems. In several, I’ve also led the system implementation from start to finish. And I’ve designed repositories and reporting systems that brought together and re-purposed data which had been collected elsewhere.
Some of the projects I’ve most enjoyed:
Laying the Foundation
for Bosnia’s Court Information System
When international donor organizations sponsored the development of a new court information system for Bosnia and Herzegovina, the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) invited me to lead the design of the conceptual data model. Working with court officials and data managers, we created a model to serve not only Bosnia’s needs but those of any court environment.
The resulting system was successfully implemented with over 3,000 users in 70 locations throughout the country. It was so flexible that the NCSC subsequently rolled it out in Indonesia as well. We then published A Framework for Logical Data Models in Courts to encourage the use of this approach elsewhere in the justice sector.
Planning an Information System
for Health Care Navigation
When the Managed Care Consumer Assistance Program (MCCAP)—which helped NYC consumers find and navigate health care coverage—needed a new information system, I was engaged to plan the way forward.
Interviews with stakeholders revealed deep problems with the way their existing system captured data on basic human service concepts such as case, issue and outcome. I worked with managers and data analysts to re-engineer the meaning and structure of those terms. I then wrote the preliminary specification for a future information system—including the data model and taxonomies—and helped guide the process of procuring a software development firm to refine and implement it.
The resulting architecture was so durable that when MCCAP later became Community Health Advocates and expanded its work to all of New York State, their system required only modest enhancements to meet the new needs.
Designing a Repository
for Louisiana’s Court Data
When the Supreme Court of Louisiana needed to carry out complex statewide analyses of criminal and traffic cases, the available data presented significant limitations. Local parishes record their cases in various information systems, boil it down to a common flat format which they transmit to the state, and send updates as cases advance through the courts. The structure of the existing data store could neither facilitate precise analytical queries nor clearly track the history of how each case record had changed over time.
Engaged to design a new repository, I worked with court staff to analyze the upstream issues that made the data difficult to manage. We produced a model that re-normalized the data, a method for tracking the lineage of every data element, and algorithms for ensuring the uniqueness of records on defendants, dockets and charges.
Creating a Panoramic View
of Juvenile Justice in New York State
When state leaders wanted to develop a system-wide approach to planning juvenile justice reforms, they were challenged by data that is fragmented across the information systems of many agencies. The New York State Task Force on Juvenile Justice Indicators was charged with creating a set of statistics that would measure the sequence of events that begins with arrest and referral to court and then proceeds through detention and court processing to final disposition.
I co-led the project to produce those indicators, drawing from data collected by the police, courts, juvenile detention and child welfare agencies. Our report, Widening the Lens: A Panoramic View of Juvenile Justice in New York State, offered an unprecedented view of the system as a whole, and facilitated comparisons by county.
Re-engineering ProsecutioN Data
When the District Attorney of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina wanted to participate in a project to study the relationship between prosecutors’ decision-making and the race of defendants, one major hurdle was the fact that the office still relied heavily on paper forms. To produce the necessary data—and also streamline the office’s work—an information system was needed.
I led the design and implementation of a new system which re-engineered the office’s data collection at discretion points from case screening through charging and plea offers to final disposition and sentencing.
A summary of some lessons learned is available in:
Prosecution and Racial Justice: Using Data to Advance Fairness in Criminal Prosecution.
Implementing a Configurable System
For Demonstration Projects With Quickly Shifting Requirements
When the Vera Institute of Justice was planning several new demonstration projects to test proposed reforms to the justice system, the planners knew that each project would need its own information system. A particular challenge was that demonstration projects change rapidly as they discover new aspects of their environment and their work. That can quickly cause the requirements on which a system is based to become obsolete.
I led the design of an information system with a data-centric architecture. It was configurable to serve a wide variety of human service environments and to evolve easily as requirements changed. We implemented half a dozen instances of it for different projects. Their work ranged from supporting prisoner re-entry to treating adolescent substance abuse.
The approach to designing that system has been presented in several articles, most comprehensively: Why Clarity and Holism Matter for Managing Human Service Information.
Mapping Crime Across New York State
When New York State’s Division of Criminal Justice Services contracted for the development of a statewide crime mapping system, one challenge was to find the highest common denominator at which data could be harvested from many different local police information systems.
Leveraging elements of the Uniform Crime Reporting and Incident Based Reporting standards, I created the data model and common data format. The architecture facilitated precise and flexible visualization of geographic patterns by types of crimes.