Matthew Cotton

Professor, PhD, Centre Lead: Centre for Social Innovation

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Personal profile

Academic Biography

Matthew Cotton joined Teesside University as Professor of Public Policy in July 2020. He currently leads the Centre for Social Innovation. Prior to working in Teesside, he held academic teaching and research positions in the Department of Environment and Geography at the University of York, in Urban Studies and Planning at Sheffield University, in Sustainability at the Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Leeds, and postdoctoral research posts at Exeter University, and Manchester University. He holds a PhD in Environmental Science (UEA), MSc Social Research Methods (Teesside), and BA (Hons) International Studies with Political Science (Birmingham).

Summary of Research Interests

Matthew's research interests lie in the socio-political and ethical dimensions of sustainable development in both the Global North and the Global South. His published work covers cases in the UK, Germany, Spain, USA, Australia, Japan, Mozambique, Nigeria, Oman and Iran.

Primarily, his research and impact activities concern issues of public and stakeholder engagement in ensuring socially just sustainable development outcomes. This work relates to new technologies, policies and practices in the fields of energy, climate change, waste management and public health. 

He uses a range of qualitative and quantitative research methods and analytical techniques including: participatory workshops, Q-methodology, elite interviewing, stakeholder surveys, and discourse analysis of print and social media.

His published research includes the recent monographs: Virtual Reality, Empathy and Ethics (Palgrave), Nuclear Waste Politics (Routledge) and Ethics and Technology Assessment (Springer-Nature); and co-edited volumes Governing Shale Gas (Routledge) and Engaging with Environmental Justice (Brill). He has co-authored more than 50 peer-reviewed papers in leading international journals and edited volumes including: Ecological Economics, Science of the Total Environment, Energy Policy, Environment and Planning A, Climate and Development, Local Environment, Public Understanding of Science, Land Use Policy, Journal of Risk Research, Population and Environment, and Energy Research and Social Science. 

PhD and Research Opportunities

Matthew is keen to supervise PhD students in projects related to:

  • Public and stakeholder engagement in policy-making
  • Innovation in social research methods (Qualitative methods, participatory methods)
  • Climate/energy policy
  • Responsible research and innovation
  • Sustainable development policy and planning
  • Environmental, social and/or health justice
  • Green growth and community development


Current PhD students

  • Jake Milner (2022-)Teesside University, School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Law. Thesis topic: energy justice and social development in the Tees Valley. 
  • Sean Harris (2020-), Teesside University, School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Law. Thesis topic: the lived experience of poverty in schools.
  • Godwin Aigbe, primary supervisor (2019-), University of York (now external supervisor), Department of Environment and Geography. Thesis topic: A comparative transnational study of gas flaring policy. 
  • Douglas Taylor, co-supervisor (2019-,  now external supervisor). University of York, Department of Environment and Geography. Thesis topic: Social license to operate in local energy governance. 

Completed students, awarded the degree of PhD

  • Dr M.M. Golam Rabbani, Department of Environment and Geography, University of York. Thesis topic: Decision-making and non-migration under conditions of environmental stress in Bangladesh.
  • Dr Talia Contreras, Department of Environment and Geography, University of York. Thesis topic: A historical institutionalist analysis of Mexican sustainable energy policy. (PhD awarded 2020)
  • Dr. Rob Hardie. University of Sheffield, Department of Geography. Thesis topic: Public-private partnerships for sustainable development in low and middle income developing countries: case studies of the Niger Delta (PhD awarded 2020)
  • Dr Fatima Ajia, (co-supervisor 2015-16) Public communications in the adaptive water utility, University of Sheffield, Department of Urban Studies and Planning (PhD awarded 2018)
  • Dr Karwan Taha (co-supervised 2014-2016) Department of Urban Studies and Planning, University of Sheffield. The significance of sustainability in future Erbil City planning (PhD awarded 2018)
  • Dr Clare Reger. Department of Urban Studies and Planning, University of Sheffield.Understanding the post-start up experiences of community-based energy schemes in the UK (PhD awarded 2017)
  • Dr. Ahmed Mahroos Al Saiari, (additional/replacement co-supervisor for specific aspects of research methodology and data analysis). Stakeholder participation inenvironmental impact assessment process between policy and practice: lessons from the Sultanate of Oman Awarded PhD from the University of Leeds, School of Earth and Environment (PhD awarded 2015)


Research Projects & External Funding

Current and historic funded research projects:

  • Harvesting the sun twice: Enhancing livelihoods in East African agricultural communities through innovations in solar energy. ES/T006293/1 Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Global Challenges Research Fund: Sustainable energy and international development: beyond technology programme, April 2020 – March 2023 (Workpackage lead and CoI).
  • Committed to Communities: A Climate for Change. Perceptions of gas infrastructure, low carbon transitions and cultural heritage funded by Northern Gas Networks, March 2020-Feb 2021 
  • INCEPT – Informated Circular Economy ProducTs, ESRC White Rose Collaboration Fund, led by Prof Peter Ball, University of York. (CoI, February 2020-March 2021).
  • Benchmark review of shale gas governance, devolution and localism. Funded by the NERC-UKRI Unconventional Hydrocarbons in the UK Energy System programme: Challenge 1 - Assessing and monitoring the UK shale gas landscape (UKSGL) project. July 2019 - July 2020.
  • A political-economic analysis of electricity grid access histories and futures in Mozambique (POLARIZE), Applied Research Programme on Energy and Economic Growth (EEG), funded by UK Aid, Department for International Development (PI co-led with Dr Joshua Kirshner, University of York, February 2019 - June 2021), with partner organisations Centre for Research on Governance and Development (CPGD), Obervatorio do Meio Rural (OMR) and Universidade Eduardo Mondlane (UEM),
  • A qualitative analysis of marine plastic management policy, funded by the University of York Environment Department pump priming fund (PI, March-September 2018)
  • Public engagement and opportunities for shared infrastructure in the UK, White Rose Doctoral Training Partnership Collaborative Award, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and Ove Arup and Partners. Led by Dr James Van Alstine, University of Leeds. Competitive fully funded 1+3 studentship (CoI/Co-supervisor, funding awarded January 2018)
  • Governing gas in the context of sustainable energy transitions, funded by the Thomas Krauss pump priming fund. (PI, May-July 2017).
  • Workshop to develop research proposals related to sustainable wellbeing and the UN Sustainable Development Goals Funded by the Centre For Future Health and Wellcome Trust – Partnership Award Fund. Academic led by Prof. Kate Pickett, University of York (CoI April-May 2017).
  • Participation@Large Digital Media for Empowering Large-Scale Farmer and Citizen Participation in AgriFood Research and Policy-Making, funded by the N8 AgriFood pump priming fund, led by Dr Sabastian Deterding, - (CoI, March 2017-September 2017).
  • Histories of Nuclear Energy and Society (HoNESt), Horizon 2020/Euratom Nuclear Fission Research Program, led by Dr Albert Presas i Puig, Universitat Pompeu Fabra – (CoI, work package co-lead on engagement futures, management committee member, October 2015-February 2019).
  • Acting Together Against Climate Change (ATACC) PhD training Network, co-funded by the Grantham Institute for Sustainable Futures and University of Sheffield Future 2022 programme (co-PI alongside Dr Tom Goodfellow and Dr Holly Lawford-Smith, 3x fully funded 4-year studentships, 2015-2019).
  • Risk, Resilience and Responsibility in Public-Private Partnerships in the Green Economy Network, co-funded by the Grantham Institute for Sustainable Futures, Environmental NGO: Carbon Plus Capital, and the University of Sheffield Researcher Enterprise and Innovation Fund (Co-I, 3x fully funded 4-year studentships October 2015-2019).
  • Exploring public moral values of intergenerational environmental justice. Toyota Foundation Research Grant Programme “Exploring New Values for Society”- (PI, May 2015-July 2016).
  • Infrastructure and planning research programme funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, led by Dr Aidan While (CoI, September 2014-May 2015).
  • Programme of Research on Preparedness, Adaptation and Risk (PREPARE) project, funded by Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) Consortium bid led by AEA Ricardo with Ipsos Mori and the University of Leeds, project number ERG1211; academic lead - Prof. Suraje Dessai, University of Leeds (CoI and Workpackage lead, September 2012 - May 2013).
  • Engaging communities on the social and ethical aspects of radioactive waste and nuclear site decommissioning. Funded by the RCUK Roberts Fund for public engagement with research and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s Radioactive Waste Management Directorate - (Principal investigator, September 2006-September 2007).
  • Collaborative Award in Science and Engineering (CASE) PhD studentship, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and UK Nirex Ltd. (October 2004-September 2007).
  • Masters scholarship at Teesside University, funded by UK Nirex Ltd. (September 2003-August 2004).

External Roles and Professional Activities

Associate editor Energy and Environment (2018-present).

Editorial board of Environments

Panel chair for Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences Conference 2020 session on Environmental Justice. (15-17th July 2020).

Member of the scientific committee for: The nuclear and social science nexus: challenges and opportunities for speaking across the disciplinary divide. OECD NEA, Paris, (12th-13th December 2019).

Co-organiser and panel chair for “Unveiling the ‘public face’ of technological innovation in the energy sector” at the 11th Annual Science in Public Conference, University of Sheffield, Sheffield (10th-12th July 2017).

Panel organizer/chair for “Energy markets and energy policy in the era of low-carbon transition” workshop atthe UK-China workshop on ‘Shaping low carbon energy futures’ Queens University, Belfast (29th-31st August2016).

Session coordinator/chair for the Social Sustainability session at the Asian Conference Sustainability, Energyand Environment (9th-12th June, 2016).

Visiting fellow at the Center of the American West, University of Colorado Boulder (April-May, 2015).


Peer review for journals:

  • Critical Policy Studies
  • Democracy & Security
  • Ecological Economics
  • Energy & Environment
  • Energy Efficiency
  • Energy Policy
  • Energy Research & Social Science
  • Energy Strategy Reviews
  • Environment and Behavior
  • Environmental Communication
  • Environmental Justice
  • Environmental Policy and Governance
  • Environmental Politics
  • Environmental Values
  • Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space
  • Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design
  • Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy
  • Ethics, Policy & Environment
  • European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy
  • Global Environmental Change: Human and Policy Dimensions
  • International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
  • Journal of Cleaner Production
  • Journal of Environmental Planning and Management
  • Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning
  • Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences
  • Journal of Risk Research
  • Journal of Rural Studies
  • Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Criminology
  • KRITERION – Journal of Philosophy
  • Landscape and Urban Planning
  • Land Use Policy
  • Local Environment
  • Local Government Studies
  • Marine Pollution Bulletin
  • Nature Energy
  • Natural Resources Forum
  • Organization & Environment
  • Pacific Geographies
  • People, Place and Policy
  • Planning Theory and Practice
  • Political Studies
  • Public Understanding of Science
  • Regulation and Governance
  • Review of Policy Research
  • Risk Analysis
  • Science and Technology Studies
  • Social Sciences (MDPI)
  • Sociological Inquiry
  • Sustainability (MDPI)
  • The Extractive Industries and Society
  • Wiley Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (WiREs) Water

Peer-review for book manuscripts

  • Oxford University Press
  • Routledge: Environment and Sustainability and Development Studies series, Waste Management policyseries, and Energy Policy series (multiple) 
  • Wiley: Environmental Sciences series

Peer review for funders

  • Panel member for UKRI - GCRF: Reducing the Impacts of Plastic Waste in Developing Countries - Assessment Panel (May 2020), involved in decision-making over the allocation of £20 million research funding. 
  • Economic and Social Research Council (multiple) 
  • Natural Environment Research Council
  • National Science Foundation
  • Sêr Cymru II COFUND Fellowship
  • British Academy Postdoctoral fellowship scheme

External Research Collaborations

Matthew is happy to work with a range of external partners in the delivery of research and commerical activity including. He has previosuly worked with partners including:

  • Nuclear Waste Services
  • Northern Gas Networks
  • UK Nirex Ltd, and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority
  • National Grid Plc.
  • The Toyota Foundation
  • Joseph Rowntree Foundation
  • ICRAF World Agriforestry
  • CPGD Mozambique (Centre for Research on Goverance and Development)
  • CarbonPlusCapital
  • Arup

Education/Academic qualification

PhD, Developing stakeholder engagement tools for the consideration of ethics in UK radioactive waste management policy, University of East Anglia

1 Oct 200420 Aug 2008

Award Date: 22 Jul 2009

Master, MSc Social Research Methods, Teesside University

30 Sept 200331 Aug 2004

Award Date: 1 Sept 2004

Bachelor, BA (Hons) International Studies with Political Science, University of Birmingham

30 Sept 200030 Jun 2003

Award Date: 24 Jul 2003


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