A mediated workshop series designed to enable cross-disciplinary, innovative thinking regarding countries and issues critical to U.S. national interests.

The NYU School of Professional Studies CGA Scenarios Initiative is a mediated workshop series designed to enable cross-disciplinary, innovative thinking regarding countries and issues critical to U.S. national interests. By inviting experts from a diverse range of specializations and international backgrounds to participate in scenario-building workshops, the Initiative aims to raise the quality of U.S. foreign policy by improving policymakers' understanding of, and reaction to, change.



Project Overview

In both official and academic policy debates, the future is often expected to parallel the recent past. Potential discontinuities are dismissed as implausible, information that conflicts with prevailing mindsets or policy preferences is unseen or viewed as anomalous, pressure for consensus drives out distinctive insights, and a fear of being “wrong” discourages risk-taking and innovative analysis. This conservatism can obscure, and thus reduce, foreign policy choice. Our experience, through several workshops, is that experts tend to underestimate the degree of future variability in the domestic politics of seemingly stable states. This was the case with the Soviet Union, as it is now in the Middle East and, suddenly, in Turkey and Brazil. Globalization, financial volatility, physical insecurity, economic stresses, and ethnic and religious conflicts challenge governments as never before, and require that Americans think seriously about both risk and opportunity in such uncertain circumstances.

The CGA Scenarios Initiative aims to apply imagination to debates about pivotal countries that affect U.S. interests. The project assembles the combination of knowledge, detachment, and futures perspective essential to informing decisions taken in the presence of uncertainty. The project comprises long-term research on forces for change in the international system and workshops attended by experts and policymakers from diverse fields and viewpoints. The workshops examine the results of current research, create alternative scenarios, identify potential surprises, and test current and alternative U.S. policies against these futures.

Scenarios Project Founder
Michael Oppenheimer
Clinical Professor

As a clinical professor for the MS in Global Affairs program, Michael Oppenheimer draws upon his expertise in international relations and foreign policy to help his students to find connections between essential academic theories and their practical applications on the global stage."The link between theory and practice is central to how I see the world, and to how I have used the depth of my knowledge to deliver relevant content in the classroom," he asserts. "I try to impart in my students, a deeper appreciation for ideas, and I strive to illustrate the real leverage they provide in understanding a complex international reality." 


For nearly four decades, Oppenheimer has provided research, consulting, and policy advice for the U.S. foreign policy and intelligence communities. As an expert on international conflict, global economics, U.S.-European relations, and national security strategy, he has imagined, speculated, and created solutions to conflict, through the use of scenarios and alternative analyses, free of political motivation. 


His commitment to integrating theory and practice in the learning environment is best exemplified by his development of the CGA Scenarios Initiative, which is a mediated workshop series that is designed to produce cross-disciplinary, forward thinking about countries and issues that are critical to U.S. national interest. Scenarios workshops bring the world’s top experts and policymakers to the CGA, where they interact with NYU School of Professional Studies faculty members and students. Also valuable in this regard, is Oppenheimer’s scenarios-focused course, The Future of International Relations: Forces for Change and Alternate Scenarios, in which students build alternate scenarios around emerging forces for change and potential ‘wild card’ events. Oppenheimer‘s dedication to helping his students launch or advance their careers in global affairs does not end in the classroom.


As director of the international relations concentration, he advises students on their career paths, helps identify internship opportunities, and brings leading experts and policy makers into direct contact with them. Many of his former students have built successful careers working at foundations, in government agencies, or in NGOs, including the Council on Foreign Relations, the UN Association of the United States, the Asia Society, Council of the Americas, and the Clinton Foundation.

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