The formal study of the future goes by a number of names, including futures studies (the academic field's most preferred term, emphasizing the plurality of possible, probable, and preferable futures), future studies (a term that remains popular in lay writing but not with scholars), foresight and strategic foresight (both terms steadily increasing in popularity in recent decades), prospective studies (Europe), prospectiva (Spain and Latin America), prognostics (Eastern Europe), futuribles (France) and a range of lesser-used synonyms (futurology, futuring, futuristics, etc.).
The following definition covers the most common futurist types/definitions that ASF researchers have identified to date. They may be loosely grouped into six social and six methodological foresight categories. The latter types of each category are seen increasingly rarely in the population. Thus these twelve may roughly comprise a set of developmental stages for futures thinking in general. As with many developmental models, most of us would be expected to engage in all of these types at least fleetingly, depending on context.
1. [Preconventional futurist]. One who thinks about the future in relation to self (ego, personal vision), but without either concern for or broad understanding of the norms and conventions of society.
2. [Personal futurist]. One who uses foresight to solve problems primarily for themselves, within the conventions of society, and whose current behavior is oriented to and influenced by their future expectations and plans.
3. [Imaginative futurist]. One who habitually develops future visions, scenarios, expectations, and plans in relation to self and others, knowing but sometimes breaking the conventions and norms of society.
4. [Agenda-driven futurist]. One who creates or works toward top-down developed (received, believed) ideological, religious, or organizationally-preferred agendas (sets of rules, norms) and their related problems, for the future of a group.
5. [Consensus-driven futurist]. One who helps create or work toward bottom-up developed (facilitated, emergent), group-, communally-, institutionally- or socially-preferred futures.
6. [Professional futurist]. One who explores change for a paying client or audience, who seeks to describe and advance possible, probable, or preferable future scenarios while avoiding undesirable ones, and who may seek to help their client or audience apply these insights (manage change).
7. [Critical futurist]. One who explores, deconstructs, and critiques the future visions, perspectives, and value systems of others, not primarily to advance an agenda, to achieve consensus, or for payment, but as a methodology of understanding.
8. [Alternative futurist]. One who explores and proposes a range of possible or imaginable futures, including those beyond one's personal, organizational, and cultural conventional and consensus views.
9. [Predictive futurist]. One who forecasts probable futures, events and processes that they expect are likely to occur, in a statistical sense, both as a result of anticipated personal and social choices, and for autonomous processes that appear independent of human choice.
10. [Evolutionary developmental (Evo devo) futurist]. One who explores evolutionary possibilities and predicts developmental outcomes, and attempts differentiate between evolutionary (chaotic, reversible, unpredictable) and developmental (convergent, irreversible, statistically predictable) processes of universal change.
11. [Validating futurist]. One who seeks to evaluate, systematize, and validate the completeness (for critical and alternative futures) and accuracy (for predictive and evo devo futures) of methodologies used to consider the future.
12. [Epistemological futurist.] One who investigates the epistemology (how we know what we know) of the future, and seeks to improve the paradigms of foresight scholarship and practice
1. Preconventional futurists
2. Personal futurists seek to solve their individual problems using their personal perspective on the future, and to change their present behavior based on their future expectations or goals. They do this primarily within the conventions of society. This requires practical envisioning, problem-solving, planning and managing the present based on your future models, beginning with your own personal life.
3. Imaginative futurists envision the future in a way that includes a mature understanding of the perspectives and conventions of others. They will also occasionally subvert, reinterpret, or break those conventions as well, sometimes with highly valuable results. After developing a healthy (and mostly preconventional) ego, and learning how to solve personal problems (at least enough to stay alive) gaining a broad world model and a healthy, active imagination is next most foundational skill for all futurists.
5. Consensus-driven futurists seek to facilitate the emergence of collective consensus on preferred futures, and to guide groups, actively or passively, toward some at least partly democratic-preferred vision. Such individuals value social dialog and cooperation as much or more than competition and individual action. Mediators, facilitators, and visioning consultants are an important example of professional futurists who are also consensus-driven futurists, as are, at a less conscious level, managers and line workers who value the process of discovering group- and socially-preferred futures, as well as carrying out agendas.
6. Professional futurists explore change for a paying client or audience. They also seek to describe and advance possible, probable, or preferable future scenarios while avoiding undesirable ones, and aim to help their client or audience apply these insights (e.g., manage change). Such work ranges from the informal to the formal, and might include something as simple as giving your "expert" advice to a friend in a written document, in exchange for services, to working in a staff position in a Fortune 500 company.
7. Critical futurists seek to critique the assumptions, analyses, and conclusions of other futurists, not in relation to their own agenda, to achieve consensus, or for payment, but as a methodology of understanding. We all evaluate from the confines of our own values, but critical futurists seek to be broadly aware of the benefits and limitations of all value systems, their own included. This represents a foundational futures methodology, and at the same time, can be seen as the highest "social", or "normative" level of foresight development.
8. Alternative futurists explore and propose future ideas that go beyond their own (personal), and their organizations and cultures (social) conventional or consensus views. After a critical understanding of social systems, the careful, comprehensive presentation of real alternatives (charting "the possibility space" for human choice) represents the next most basic methodology of futuring for individuals, organizations, and society. This process can use subjective or objective methods.
11. Validating futurists use a range of mechanisms to evaluate, systematize, and attempt to validate the methodologies used to generate foresight. Such work begins with the history of prediction, but extends into testing, replication, and refinement of predictive methodologies. It helps us determine the completeness of critical perspectives and alternative scenarios, the accuracy of predictions, and helps us validate which processes appear predictably predictable (developmental) and which appear predictably unpredictable (evolutionary).
12. Epistemological futurists investigate the epistemology (how we know what we know) of futuring, and thereby seek to advance the paradigms of foresight scholarship and practice. We return to Slaughter for a good (but partial) description: "Epistemological futures work... merges into the foundational areas that feed into the futures enterprise and provide part of its substantive basis. Hence what has been termed the ‘social construction of reality’ philosophy, ontology, macrohistory, the study of time, cosmology, etc are all relevant at this level.