The Oxford Collaborative Strategy Lab


Strategising together in the creative and safe environment of an experimental lab

About the lab

A lab has experimentation at its heart.

At Saïd Business School we are building on our research and practice in developing collaborative strategy, new and improved relationships in a changing context, organisational identity, and scenarios to develop an experimental lab.

The intent of the lab is to provide a creative space for networks of organisations to come together and strategise, helping them chart an innovative and productive course for a future they could not achieve alone.

It certainly brought partners together and engaging all partners in the network actually gave them a sense of empowerment. They weren't being told what the direction of the network was; they were the network helping to find the direction.

Dale Fisher

Chair of The Global Outbreak and Alert Response Network (GOARN)

Who the lab is for

The lab is for networks of organisations who work or want to strategise together.

We call these networks ‘meta-organisations.’ This term refers to configurations made up of organisations (and not individuals) working together. 

Meta-organising can be carried out in structured, well-established networks, in semi-structured groupings such as complex joint ventures, as well as in loosely structured groups such as movements.

The number of those participating depends on the nature of the network – to date we have run sessions with up to one hundred participants, and as few as five.

An interview with lab participant, Dale Fisher

In 2021, the Global Outbreak and Alert Response Network (GOARN) participated in a lab conducted by Oxford Saïd. GOARN is a network of over 270 institutions that co-ordinate and respond to acute, global public health events, and is based on the understanding that no one actor can provide a solution on their own; by coming together as complementary entities they can respond most effectively. 

The purpose of the lab was to help the network develop its next four-year strategy. 

In the first of two videos about the lab, Dale Fisher, the Chair of GOARN at the time, talks about its key outcomes. These include empowering members to express their views and be involved in the development of the strategy; helping the members to understand their role in the network and how their role might evolve in the future; and a shared understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of certain strategic directions and what would be required to pursue them. In summary he says, it led to clear strategic directions with buy-in from members.


‘The process really does give the outcomes much, much more credibility.’

Lab outcomes for participants


After the lab, participants will have:

  • Produced novel insights on what is possible
  • Created actionable opportunities in the form of new strategic options
  • Formed new relations both within the network and with others outside it
  • Acquired a new methodology for strategising collectively.

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of a lab is ‘something likened to a scientific laboratory, esp. in being a site or centre of development, production, or experimentation.’ The newly-formed behaviour of experimentation is a key take-away for participants.

How the lab works

Each iteration of the lab is customised to the specific purpose and needs of the unique group of organisations participating.

The Collaborative Strategy Lab can be conducted online or in-person in Oxford, or at another location (or a mix with some parts of the lab online and some in-person).

Every lab is co-designed with the participating organisations and conducted over a duration of time that relates to what is to be achieved in the lab.

Most labs are made up of five phases:

  1. Set up
  2. Exploring conceptual models of the future context
  3. Simulating existing and new strategic options
  4. Translating lab insights into practice
  5. Follow-up and revision.

An interview with lab participant, Gail Carson

In this second video about the GOARN strategy lab, Gail Carson - Deputy Chair at the time of the lab, now Chair - talks about how the lab was introduced to the members, and the value they quickly recognised from having a neutral space to challenge and discuss different assumptions about the future. She also talks about what GOARN did to prepare for the lab, and how a key outcome has been the improved performance of the steering committee itself.

In conclusion, Gail talks about working with Oxford Saïd to conduct the lab, and the positive experience it has been.

Title slide: Gail Fisher, Deputy Chair of GOARN

‘We bonded more than I ever expected to through the process.’

Lab faculty


Dr Trudi Lang, Lab Director