WhatIF Lab

Illustrations: Kathleen Jennings
Illustrations: Kathleen Jennings

Imagining the Future, Better

We specialise in creative arts and imagination-led workshops for researchers from different backgrounds and disciplines.

Our unique approach which we call Story Thinking uses playful and unexpected methods to dislodge researchers from tightly held disciplinary perspectives so they can collaborate on the complex problems of the twenty-first century. 

What we do

Story Thinking is a fresh methodology based on four core principles:

INHABIT: Storyworlds and the Rules of the Game

Science fiction and fantasy writers have perfected ‘world-building’, a practice that brings speculative elements and real-world research together. Creating and inhabiting a storyworld is a valuable tool to situate a problem in its context and explore the possibilities for changes in a 360-degree imaginative space.

ENVISION: Epic Wins and Nasty Surprises

Stories move through chains of cause and effect, which are usually called plots. We use cause and effect to extrapolate from different divergence points and speculate on multiple outcomes. Working in the space of possibility, we generate new ideas and scenarios and prepare for the unexpected.

EMPATHISE: Imagining Extraordinary Inner Lives

Being able to imagine the experience of others is key to telling stories and co-designing solutions. We have many tools for perspective taking, developing empathy and imagining ‘unusual suspects’: people with wildly different backgrounds, histories, and experiences who are often overlooked. 

ENGAGE: The Magic Words that Bind People and Build Knowledge

Stories engage audiences and create affinity spaces of pleasure. We use language, metaphor, and humour to transcend disciplines and create cohorts with a shared sense of the problem and a shared commitment to solving it.

Our Team

Professor Kim Wilkins
Kim is a recognised expert on creative practice, popular literature, and the publishing industry. She is the author of more than 30 full-length works of fiction, and her work is translated into more than 20 languages globally. Her scholarly research centres on creative communities, such as writing groups and fan cultures. Kim is passionate about interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary collaboration and methodologies. Since 2019, she has served a leadership role in the Faculty as Deputy Associate Dean of Research, with a special interest in transdisciplinary connections.
Dr Helen Marshall
Helen is a Senior Lecturer of Creative Writing at UQ. She has won the World Fantasy Award, the British Fantasy Award and the Shirley Jackson Award and her debut novel The Migration was one of The Guardian’s top science fiction books of the year. She has designed science fiction workshops for the Australian Department of Defence (a full-scale simulation of operations in a fictional version of the South China Sea, designed to inspire tactical AI innovation); and at UQ with digital humanities researchers and robotics experts.
Dr Lisa Bennett
Lisa is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Flinders University, where she researches Viking Age literature, genre fiction, and popular culture. As Lisa L. Hannett, she writes speculative and historical fiction; her work has won four Aurealis Awards, an Australian National Science Fiction Award, and has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award. She facilitates fantasy and horror fiction workshops for Writers SA, regularly reviews for the ABR, and is a recurrent guest on ABC Radio’s ‘Book of the Week’ segment.

Recent Projects

In 2020-2021, we helped to launch the Defence Innovation Bridge in partnership with the UQ Business School and the Department of Defence. The Defence Innovation Bridge aims to provide Australia with a new model for innovation by matching defence problems with solutions providers.
In 2021-2022, we are forming a consortium of speculative fiction writers and scholars who will come together to explore how creative writing skills can help researchers in diverse fields solve the grand challenges of the twenty-first century.

Work with us

We are available for contract research. Please get in touch with us if you’d like to know more about what we can do for your project.