The study about images of the future dates back to the second half of the twentieth century and has its origins in the fields of sociology  and psychology [2–4]. A growing interest in this area arose during the early 1990s [5–7] and, during the late 1990s and the first years of the twenty-first century, the study about images of the future—and more specifically about images of the future among young people—has consolidated within the framework of social sciences in general and, particularly, in the context of Sociology [8–27, amongst others].
According to Polak’s definition, “an image of the future is made of associated memories and expectations. It is a set of long-range goals which stress the infinite possibilities open to a person. Thus, an image of the future can be defined as a mental construction dealing with possible states. It is composed of a mixture of conceptions, beliefs, and desires, as well as observations and knowledge about the present. This affects a person’s choice both consciously and unconsciously and is derived from both reality and from imagination. Ultimately it steers one’s decision-making and actions .”
Therefore, reflecting on the expected impact of these images on the determination of our present actions and our attitude towards the future allows us to see the need for a systematic approach to study such images. As Bell argued, “any adequate theory of modern society must include people as active, purposeful, and innovative beings whose future-oriented behaviour helps create not only their own future but also the social order itself .”
Nevertheless, the research on those images carried out during the last century tended to be relatively sporadic and never had a preeminent role within future research . A number of authors actually saw this as resulting from the lack of a terminological consensus: “The image of the future, of course, is a central concept of futures studies. Although the terminology may vary, it can be found in most futurist works .”
As suggested above, the scope changed during the late 1990s and the beginning of the twenty-first century, when the research on images of the future started to raise growing interest in countries such as Finland, Australia, the UK, Japan or Hungary. In this respect, Finland stands out as one of the most active countries regarding futures research and, more precisely, the study about images of the future. “The images of the future of young Finnish people”—a pioneering study within the national context of Finland, and one of the main references for our study—was published by Anita Rubin in 1998.
The review of the previous research carried out in Spain additionally showed us that the study about images of future had been firstly addressed in the book edited by JF Tezanos in 1997 . However, no sustained scientific production could be found in this field; only a few precedents partially dedicated to assess young people’s future expectations. Worthy of mention is the work carried out by Tezanos [15, 28, 29] which focused on the analysis of current trends in the lifestyles of young people and their expectations about probable futures. Thus, the tradition in Spain has been completely dominated by a descriptive approach revolving around young people’s expectations. In this respect, the project presented here (funded by FECYT—Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology) can be described as pioneering within the Spanish context.
It can be stated at this point that there is a long and prolific tradition—internationally—of studying the images of the future among young people within social sciences (from Ethno-Anthropology to Sociology or Psychology). As far as Sociology in particular is concerned, many works which attempt to identify and explain young people’s concerns seek to answer the following question: how do young people expect their future to be? [15, 28, 29].
However, it is far from easy to find studies where the approach consists in trying to answer the question: what do young people want for their future? Therefore, there is arguably a lack of new approaches which can integrate aspirational parameters and enable a greater involvement of youths in the process of defining future alternatives.
In this sense, there is apparently a growing interest among public and private institutions to identify and understand citizens’ expectations and wishes, which has led both types of institutions to promote actions in line with the new paradigms of Social Innovation and Open Innovation  that provide a more active, direct and continuous citizenship in governance, close to the concept of participatory democracy. In fact, this is something which seems much more feasible today than even five years ago, thanks to aspects such as technology development, the spreading of internet access, and the increasing popularity of social online networks.
One of the most outstanding study references which follow this participatory and aspirational approach is United Dreams of Europe, a research project developed by the FFS-Foundation for Futures Studies (Hamburg, Germany) . This project—based on the paradigms of Social Innovation and Open Innovation—used online forms with open questions, integrating heterodox groups (researchers, members of European Parliament, students, etc.…) and the utilisation of an online platform (Web 2.0) as the basis for its implementation.
Therefore it is perfectly feasible to complement a descriptive approach for the ‘future diagnostic’ with images of the future and creative proposals directly defined and developed by young people, giving voice and prominence to them thanks to:
the proliferation of communication channels that allow for immediate and continuous feedback (2.0 platforms, social networks) with the user/citizen; and
the development of ‘participatory’ foresight methodologies in both institutional and private sectors.
The conceptual basis behind this approach leads participants to consider themselves as key actors in the task of defining their own future—through an active participation in the construction of shared images of the future. It could consequently prove much more motivating for young people to interact within these processes if participants are given some space to interact, share and create.