Originally written on September 2, 2014 by ti8
Last modified on March 16, 2018 by ti8


A spreadsheet version of the syllabus, for those who want a more schematic overview.

Week 1 – Jan. 25:

Introduce the approach we’re taking and define terms

  • What we know we know (from Swartz, Art of the Long View):
    • current conditions  — the now, careful mapping  of what our world currently looks like
    • predetermined elements — those elements we can easily predict and account for, e.g. if there are 1 million 10-year olds today, there will be (approximately) 1 million 20-year olds in 10 years.
    • trends  — patterns observable from past data. Although they can be extrapolated into the future, their continuation is uncertain. “X has been a trend” is verifiable. “X will be a trend” is uncertain.
  • What we know we care about
    • driving forces — key influencing factors from past up until present. We can observe in the past that certain factors were driving forces. 
    • Driving forces are driven in part by our values — even if they run counter to those values
    • Social changes,  Demographic changes, Economy, Politics,  and the Environment are all driving forces.
  • What we don’t know
    • critical uncertainties — factors which can’t be extrapolated, whose outcome is uncertain, but whose effect on the scenario is significant.

In our scenario ideations we will consider:

  • Relationship to self
  • Relationship to those close to us (family, friends, partners)
  • Relationship to community
  • Relationship to culture
  • Relationship to governments and policy
  • Relationship to markets
  • Relationship to planet (industry, ecology etc)

and the system that emerges from these interconnected relationships

Assignment: Begin thinking about the question we want to ask. Think beyond trends and more toward a strategy for realizing your ideals for self, community, etc. 7 years in the future, in the year 2025.

Assignment: (done in pairs): come in to week 2 with a driving force and 2 or more current conditions which are influenced by it. Do not speculate about the future, just tell us what we know about now and the past. How did it become a driving force? Explain the historical events leading to it. How does it influence the conditions which are influenced by it? What are the counter-forces at play?

Week 2 – Feb. 1:


First hour: discuss the assignment. Each pair presents, 5-7 minutes, class questions and debates.

Second hour: Review different approaches  to future study and scenario planning, looking at it in terms of the goals of the institutions that have done it. Consideration of the overlap between scenario planning and systems thinking and modelling (cf Meadows, Club of Rome)

Assignment (new pairs): Come in with a description of current conditions and predetermined elements which shape them. Describe how the current conditions map to the future. Back it up with data. E.g: demographic movement, economic direction, political momentum,  resource growth or decline, etc. We will debate these as a class, and prioritize them for future use.

Week 3 – Feb. 8:

Basic research and fact checking. What makes a source measurable, credible? How to we correlate sources and ensure that we look at broad and diverse sources and perspectives? How do we look at the fringes?  That way we can reach to the plausible.

Guest: Margaret Smith, Physical Sciences Librarian librarian at Bobst library

Assignment (new pairs): come in with a list of trends  and critical uncertainties.

Week 4 – Feb. 15:

Digesting and summarizing research

Second half: picking the question.The question, which we will collectively formulate, will focus our attention seven years forward. What are the issues which we think will matter the most to us at that time? Family? Career? Ideals? Community? Environment? Our question should address these key priorities.

Many possible futures might come to pass. The scenarios we develop in answer to this question will  help us to consider what is common to all of them. This should enable us to make responsible long-term decisions, assess their possible impact, and then act on them.

Guest: Clive Thompson, writer, NY Times and Wired magazine

Assignment (individuals): Decide which of the elements we’ve listed so far (driving forces, current conditions, predetermined elements, trends, uncertainties) is of most interest to you in answering our question and collect as much data as you can around this topic to support in-depth research. Define what you know about the topic and how you know it.  Summarize it in a succinct and accessible way to convince the class that it bears further investigation..

Week 5 – Feb. 22:

Deep research topics

Everyone will present their topics of interest and their preliminary research. We will all consider the topics presented, identifying patterns and re-prioritizing these topics based on discussion. We’ll begin formulating a mental model that connects them all.

After today’s class, each student will conduct more in-depth research on an assigned topic in weeks 6-8.

Weeks 6-8 – Mar. 1, 8, 22:

For weeks 6-8, each student conducts in-depth research on their assigned topic.  For example, if you are interested in X, whether you consider it a critical uncertainty or a driving force, your research will present the current conditions and predetermined elements which support its relevance. In other words, we will build a foundation for our scenarios, based on our collective research and preliminary analysis. You’ll work individually on this.

Assignment: Five students will present their research each week. Your weeks will be pre-assigned. Those  who are not presenting that week will familiarize themselves with the topic to be prepared to counter-argue and present alternative viewpoints.

We are looking to:

  • Understand the given conditions
  • Discover the projectable paths
  • Identify critical uncertainties and risks
  • Uncover our assumptions and mental models
  • Map the topic in a systematic way

Note: Spring Break falls between weeks 7 and 8

Week 8 – Mar. 22:

  • Finish research reports
  • What topics are missing from our research topics?
  • How do the topics relate to each other?


  1. Give an executive summary of your research so far. No more than three pages, including a complete list of references. Prioritize the information, provide context for it, and present it in an easily digestible form, so that the reader can use it as a basis for their own actions. Don’t draw their conclusions for them.
  2. Briefly state the relationships that you see emerging between your research and other students’ research topics. How do they connect? Where do they diverge? What patterns do you see emerging? No more than one page, in written or diagrammatic form.

Week 9 – Mar. 29:

  • Despina explains blockchain to you, in diagrammatic form.
  • Discuss diagramming methods


  1. Create a diagrammatic poster of your research, following the template and methods Despina demonstrated. You may work together to combine your research in a diagram with another student’s where appropriate, and after consulting with us. Your poster should be no larger than 24″x36″, with no font sizes no smaller than 12 point. This is a diagram, not a treatise.
  2. Continue drawing relationships between your research and other topics.

Week 10 – Apr. 5:

First half: Guest: Paul Pangaro, talking about cybernetics

Second half: Presentation: posters. Put your posters on the wall, then read all the others carefully. Ask each other questions. Then, we’ll synthesize what we’ve learned from each others’ posters.

Weeks 11-13 – Apr. 12, 19, 26:

Continue the process of presentation/synthesis & contextualization/re-presentation

In these three weeks we will bring all of our research together in order to describe the present in a cohesive and systemic manner. From there, we’ll be able identify plausible futures grounded in our observations about the present.

When we notice an emerging trend or pattern, we will do additional research and present it to each other in context. Your research and the assumptions behind it form a system.  Describing that system and using it is what we are aiming to do.

Week 14 – May 3:

Final presentations. In our final presentations we will consider the questions we outlined several weeks ago, namely:

In the year 2025:

  • Who are we? (as individuals, professionals, etc)
  • What will we value?
  • What will be of value? (to society, culture, commerce, government, etc)
  • How will we be valued? (by same)
  • How will we contribute? (to same)


During this class you will be doing a lot of reading and research. Keep a running research journal as you go, in blog form. At minimum, you should include a post for each assignment. Cite your references thoroughly, supplying all bibliographic references. When the semester is over, your blogs will remain as a record of the work you’ve done, and a resource for others doing similar work. By the end of the class, you should review all of your posts, and make sure that they include enough context to make sense to an audience that was not part of the class.  You may use your own blog, or a section of the class site, as you see fit.

Always cite the sources of your research, the places you learned techniques from, and the inspirations of your ideas. Few ideas come out of the blue, and your readers can learn a lot from the sources from which you learned.

Grading & Class Conduct

  • Participation & Attendance: 50%
  • Production Assignments: 50%

Participation & Attendance

Showing up on time, engaging in the class discussion, and offering advice and critique on other’s work in the class is a major part of your grade. Please be present and prompt.  Lateness will hurt your grade. If you’re going to be late or absent, please email your instructor in advance. Three non-emergency absences or more will lead to a failing grade. If you have an emergency, please let your instructor know as soon as you can. Please turn in assignments on time as well.


For assignments, you’ll be expected to present your project in class on the day that it’s due. If you’re working in a group, all group members should be present, on-time, and should participate equally in the presentation.

Class Notes

The Class Notes section of the site contains notes taken in-class or posted after class discussion by participants. Everyone will have edit rights on the class blog, and should take notes in it when possible and link them to the notes page. The notes can be very useful to both you and your classmates. You can find links to past classes’ notes there.


This class has a “lids closed” policy by default. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, please keep your laptop closed during all class discussions. Similarly, please keep all mobile phones on silent mode and in your bag while in class. If you are expecting an emergency call, please let your instructors know in advance.

Statement of Academic Integrity

Plagiarism is presenting someone else’s work as though it were your own. More specifically, plagiarism is to present as your own: A sequence of words quoted without quotation marks from another writer or a paraphrased passage from another writer’s work or facts, ideas or images composed by someone else.

Statement of Principle

The core of the educational experience at the Tisch School of the Arts is the creation of original academic and artistic work by students for the critical review of faculty members. It is therefore of the utmost importance that students at all times provide their instructors with an accurate sense of their current abilities and knowledge in order to receive appropriate constructive criticism and advice. Any attempt to evade that essential, transparent transaction between instructor and student through plagiarism or cheating is educationally self-defeating and a grave violation of Tisch School of the Arts community standards. For all the details on plagiarism, please refer to page 10 of the Tisch School of the Arts, Policies and Procedures Handbook, which can be found online at:

Statement on Accessibility

Please feel free to make suggestions to your instructor about ways in which this class could become more accessible to you. Academic accommodations are available for students with documented disabilities. Please contact the Moses Center for Students with Disabilities at 212 998-4980 for further information.

Statement on Counseling and Wellness

Your health and safety are a priority at NYU. If you experience any health or mental health issues during this course, we encourage you to utilize the support services of the 24/7 NYU Wellness Exchange 212-443-9999. Also, all students who may require an academic accommodation due to a qualified disability, physical or mental, please register with the Moses Center 212-998-4980. Please let your instructor know if you need help connecting to these resources.