Christopher Cotton

Department of Economics
Queen’s University

I am a Professor in the Department of Economics at Queen’s University, where I hold the Jarislowsky-Deutsch Chair in Economic & Financial Policy and am the Director of the John Deutsch Institute for the Study of Economic Policy (JDI). I also am active in the Queen’s School of Policy Studies, where I teach the economic sequence for MPA and PMPA students, and hold a cross appointment within the Translational Medicine Graduate Program, where I help advise medical students with interests in program evaluation, economics, or policy.

Recent Research Updates

COVID-19 Research

I am helping lead a research team from Queen’s University, the John Deutsch Institute, and Limestone Analytics (with Huw Lloyd-Ellis, Bahman Kashi, and many of our junior colleagues) to study the economic impact of COVID-19 and the government policies in response to it. We developed the STUDIO model to study the shocks associated with the pandemic (link to working paper). Using this model, we initially created a dashboard for policymakers to explore projections for Ontario and our local region (discussion in the Financial Post). Building on this initial effort, we received a major federal-funded, multi-partner grant from Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster fund to develop a platform for policymakers to explore how alternative reopening and recovery strategies are likely to affect both the economic and health of their communities. I am the Economics Lead for this project, which combines our STUDIO model with epidemiological models, a massive data collection effort, and machine learning to identify how people and firms are likely to respond to alternative reopening strategies.

I am co-leading with Huw Lloyd-Ellis the JDI’s a COVID-19 research group, through which we are working with graduate students and other faculty to explore various aspects of the pandemic’s and recovery effort’s impact on the economy and society. I’m particularly interested in the impact of the pandemic on the nature of work and schooling; how education disruptions affect student learning, parent work and inequalities between men and wor men or different socio economic groups; and understanding how public health officials, policymakers and the public weigh the trade offs between short- and long-run economic and health consequences in their recommendations and decisions. We are currently supervising or co-supervising seven Ph.D. students working on COVID-19 research and funded through Mitacs grants.

I am also an affiliated member of the Queen’s School of Policy Studies Economics Working Group on COVID-19, and a member of the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) COVID-19 Economics Working Group. The RSC Working Group is tasked with providing actionable policy recommendations to help Canada emerge from the pandemic with the foundations in place to build a stronger, more equitable, and more sustainable society and economy than it had at the onset of the crisis.

Research Summary

My research applies information theory, experimental economics and empirical methods to answer a range of policy questions. Much of my work has been related to education policy, and evidence-based policymaking. Some of the research questions on which I’ve worked and am currently working include:

  • How do education policies and programs influence learning outcomes? What causes gender gaps in math performance? How to best improve the academic performance of at-risk populations?
  • How do special interest groups influence policy outcomes? What is the impact of campaign finance reform on policy outcomes?
  • How does evidence influence funding allocation and policy decisions? Are there unexpected adverse effects of better evaluation and better evidence?
  • Does innovative financing such as impact bonds and results-based financing lead to better social programs and international development projects?
  • How do investors and donors choose where to put their money when multiple projects vie for funding?
  • Do international development interventions work? What can be done to improve impact and sustainability? What role can the private sector play in this?

Other Policy Involvement and Teaching

In addition to my academic research, I am proud of the policy work with which I’ve been involved. A few of the recent or ongoing initiatives include:

  • Government expert on campaign finance policy and the influence of money on policy outcomes.
  • Lead external evaluator for a major UKAID Girls’ Education Challenge project in Zimbabwe.
  • Team Lead on a USAID activity to design a performance verification plan for the Jordan Ministry of Education’s efforts to revamp its early grade education system.
  • Team Lead for a USAID project to develop a training program for USAID education officers on public financial management, private sector engagement, and innovative finance. Currently, I am leading the efforts to bring USAID’s education finance training program online for sustainable around-the-world delivery in the face of COVID-19.
  • Innovative finance and monitoring & evaluation expert on several projects assessing the feasibility of impact bonds or other innovative financing options.

Most of my policy engagement involving innovative finance, and international development is done in partnership with Limestone Analytics, which provides me with the project management infrastructure, and research and support staff necessary for me to oversee or engage on major evaluation and capacity building projects for governments and organizations. I am a co-owner and the Principal Economist for the firm. More detail on some of this work and how it relates to my academic research can be found on my ongoing projects page.

I am one of the developers behind the Certified Professional Impact Analyst (CPIA) program at Queen’s, which teaches public and private sector practitioners how to incorporate evidence and rigorous evaluation into the design and financing of their projects in order to increase social impact and sustainability. This year, I am also overseeing the re-imagination of the Queen’s School of Policy Studies MPA and PMPA economics sequence, which will involve both developing a new curriculum and bringing the courses fully online.