New Course: Scenario Planning Theory and Practice

Austin Sustainable Places workshop in Dripping Springs, Texas, using Envision Tomorrow + Planning Support System.

Austin Sustainable Places workshop in Dripping Springs, Texas, using Envision Tomorrow + Planning Support System.

This Winter 2015, I’ll be offering a new course titled “Public Sector Scenario Planning: Theory and Practice” offered as Course UP 696-003 at Michigan’s Taubman College. The course was developed with assistance from the Open Scenario Planning Tools group (in turn supported by the Lincoln Institute for Land Policy and the Sonoran Institute), a group of academics, tool developers, and practitioners working with innovative planning tools. Although scenario planning is widespread in urban planning practice, this will be one of the first semester-length courses on the topic offered in a planning program. The course description is below.

Growing uncertainty about the future has made considering the long-term implications of public actions more difficult than ever. All planning specialties must now consider uncertainties associated with forces like climate change, new technologies, economic restructuring, and changing social preferences. Given the failure of conventional methods of prediction, professionals are increasingly turning to scenario planning. Instead of proposing only a most likely or must desired future scenario, practitioners using scenario planning seek to construct multiple possible futures. Doing so requires combining art with science: applying not only creativity but also rigorous analysis. The goal of scenario planning is to make better plans and decisions by challenging assumptions and encouraging learning.

The goal of the course is to introduce students to this exciting professional technique, as well as provide hands-on experience using GIS-based planning support systems (PSS) used to implement scenario planning. This course contains four modules: (1) an overview of scenario planning theory, (2) an exploration of applications of the method in various sub-fields of urban planning, (3) an exploration of some of the modeling tools used for scenario planning, and (4) an opportunity to use leading PSS tools to construct scenarios and explore their economic, land use, transportation, and environmental dimensions. The course will involve readings, discussion, and a series of individual and group assignments which culminate in detailed student-generated scenarios for a site in Ann Arbor where large-scale development has been proposed.

I’ll post the syllabus to my academic website in December. Michigan students are invited to enroll!

Author: Rob Goodspeed


  1. Nice. I found that digging into the history of scenario planning (primarily starting with _Engaging the Future_) was enormously clarifying of what we actually did in Austin. Especially for understanding how fundamentally different planners’ use of scenario planning is from its roots.

  2. Pingback: New Library of Materials for Teaching Scenario Planning |

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