Well, I went and done it.
I've completed my Master's in Strategic Foresight and Innovation (now watch me innovate!). It's taken two years but I enjoyed every class and project. Most of you know I was working on this; I've described the general idea behind foresight here before (basically, futurism without tears) but a lot of people were asking what my thesis was about. Well, it's about science fiction, funnily enough.
For about ten years now I've been periodically hired to write fictionalized versions of foresight findings. It works like this: mysterious government group A approaches me and tells me they've just spent six months researching the future of X (where X is something like "farm equipment" or "Alternatives To The Syringe"). What they've got is one or more scenarios, which are basically alternative plotlines for future events. They'd like me to turn these into actual stories, which I'm happy to do. (The most extreme example of this is the book Crisis in Zefra, which I wrote for the Canadian army back in 2005).
SF's also used in other ways by foresighters. Over at Intel, Brian David Johnson has defined "science fiction prototyping" as an approach where you hire SF writers to do exploratory stories in some area (like, say, the future of computing). Also, ever since people have done foresight work, they've used SF stories as examples and sounding-boards for ideas. So that's two other distinct ways in which it's used.
Curiously, when I write scenario fictions I'm not trying to generate new ideas of my own, but rather to represent the ideas that some set of futurists, subject experts, or public panels has already developed. This makes scenario fictions different than SF prototypes.
My thesis was on how to write the things. Right now, there's a big gaping hole in foresight methodology right about there; all sorts of work and pedagogy has been expended on scenario development methodologies, taxonomies and typologies; on their appropriate use and misuse. (If you're really interested you can read Future Savvy by Adam Gordon or Scenarios: The Art of Strategic Communication by Kees van der Heijden, but be warned: this subject is a rabbit hole. If you fall down it, you may not come back.) Strangely, though, almost nobody's tackled the question of how to translate a specific set of findings into fictional form in such a way that you (the writer) don't hijack or misrepresent them.
I used Ian Bogost's theory of video game criticism (see his book Unit Operations) and the classical Art of Memory (no better summary exists than Frances Yates' The Art of Memory) as my framework for describing my method. Basically it's this: if a piece of fiction is to stand for some set of findings in foresight, then it is essentially a mnemonic for them. I describe how to construct a story as a mnemonic, and refer to examples as diverse as the I Ching and the Tarot (which, as I claim in my short story "Book, Theatre, and Wheel" [Solaris Book of New Science Fiction vol. 2] was probably not originally created as a fortune-telling system).
Science fiction is more than just a genre of fiction. Hell, it's more than just fiction. It's a mode of thought; because our brains are hardwired and optimized to think in narratives, SF can be seen as a primary means by which we make sense of and plan for the future. By understanding how this process works, we have an opportunity to grow a new branch of SF parallel to but not replacing or displacing the traditional arm--a branch that's rigorous and methodical and deliberately used to help solve real-world problems. In fact, that's been happening for a while now (see Johnson's book); I'm delighted to have found myself in a position to be able to help make it formally recognized.