The Backstory –

The Backstory

I research, write and consult at the point where institutions, organizations, people and cultures meet.

For nearly 20 years, I was a senior executive in a global company; but I've also worked as a consultant to government agencies, small business and not-for-profits; taught everything from strategy, international business and marketing, to public management, organizational change and leadership; and coached executives and their teams through complex and sometimes conflictual problems.

My current focus is on exploring how innovation occurs in the way we deal with social issues and change, and how communities, governments and organizations of all sorts can collaborate to build more sustainable and inclusive futures.

I work across disciplines to develop insights and explore approaches to social, systemic and organizational change, integrating practitioner and academic perspectives. I am an experienced executive coach, and I use coaching approaches to enable collaboration, innovation and build ownership in my work with organizations and their members.

My initial research examined ways to understand cultural interactions in organizations undergoing radical change. My most recent work brings together diverse theoretical perspectives, from sociology to complexity thinking, to better understand the burgeoning field of social innovation, and how it relates to the practice of co-design or co-creation.

I am Australian by origin, have studied in Australia, France and Switzerland, and worked widely across Europe, Asia and the Middle East. I am currently an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow at the University of Queensland, and teach at QUT Graduate School of Business and other business schools in Australia.

Here is an outline some of my work so far. You can see more details and get the papers at my or pages.


Britton, G. (2017). Co-Design and Social Innovation: Connections, Tensions and Opportunities. New York, Abingdon, Routledge.

This book explores the role of co-design as a social innovation process. It reviews the diverse theoretical and disciplinary foundations on which co-design draws, and examines its relationship to the various streams of activity going under the heading of "social innovation".

Take a look on the Routledge website or at Amazon

Conference Papers

I have been a regular at the IRSPM (International Research Society for Public Management) conferences for some years now. IRSPM has shown itself to be an open and vibrant community of researchers, willing to tolerate boundary-hoppers such as myself, and explore new ideas, even when they may need further development.

I have presented papers on two broad themes:

  • building better outcomes from researcher-practitioner collaboration (I co-chair the Practice Panel with my colleagues Christine Flynn and John Diamond);
  • institutional bases of unmanaged risk in large public programmes.

Some ideas have been growing in importance as this work has progressed:

  • concepts of systems and complexity that are probably best represented by Ralph Stacey's work on Complex Responsive Processes;
  • connections between some developments of Giddens' Structuration Theory and Complex Responsive Processes;
  • an evolving critical appreciation of power as a systemic reality as well as an imposition of individual or collective will, which is nevertheless never absolute, and a corresponding interest in everyday acts of subversion as a source of innovation and adaptation.

Key papers have included:

Britton, G. M. (2014). Coproduction of social innovation – the nexus of social entrepreneurship, service delivery and families under stress. IRSPM XVIII, 9-11 April 2014. Ottawa Canada.

This paper signalled the start of my interest in the relationship between co-design and social innovation, and records my discovery of an approach to a vitally important social issue which seemed to both empower those affected by it, and to be very effective. It also strongly reinforced my interest in ways of generating progress on major issues that are locally-based rather than imposed from above.

Britton, G. M. and P. Bonser (2014). Co-design as a frame for researcher/practitioner collaboration. IRSPM XVIII. Ottawa, Canada.

Written with my colleague Phillip Bonser, this paper looks at co-design as a conceptual frame for understanding and facilitating researcher/practitioner collaboration. It draws on and connects work from earlier papers, including Bonser, P. and G. M. Britton (2013). Intra-action: Exploring the Landscape of Collaborative Space. IRSPM XVII, 10-12 April 2013. Prague, Czech Republic.

Britton, G. M. (2010). Infrastructure risk as a clash of voices: the expression of a crisis in an Australian Indigenous housing programme. IRSPM XIV. Bern, Switzerland.

Pitched more at an institutional level, this looked at the "failure" of an indigenous housing programme in Australia's Northern Territory, in particular asking how the configuration of our institutions and cultures, and the way they relate to each other, contributes to producing difficulties in implementing large public programmes that seem to be very predictable. Similar themes are explored in Britton, G. M. (2012). Institutions, interactions and insulation: The Home Insulation Program Australia 2009-2010. IRSPM XVI. Rome, Italy.

Britton, G. M. and P. Bonser (2013). Building Success across Borders: negotiating the system to produce successful action in remote Australia. IRSPM XVII. Prague, Czech Republic.

Building on an earlier paper, Britton, G. M. (2011). What falls between the cracks: boundary-spanning and risk in a complex public programme. IRSPM XV. Dublin, Ireland, and reflecting several of the themes mentioned above, this paper particularly explores the potential for small programmes to produce real value, almost in spite of the weight of highly complex governance systems focussed on achieving other priorities.


I have been lucky enough to be involved in developing and delivering the innovative Executive Graduate Certificate in Business (Leadership through Coaching and Mentoring) offered by QUT. In particular I developed the final unit, Influencing Organisational Systems and Strategies, which brings together practice and theory from diverse disciplines to help understand how coaching practice can influence organizational strategy, culture and performance.


Britton, G. M. (2007). On Reading Lines in Shifting Sands: making organisational culture relevant. College of Business and Economics. Canberra, Australian National University. PhD.

Instead of treating cultures within organisations as something that can be classified or engineered, this paper treats them as vital influences on the way organisations change and how they (and their members) experience that change.