Chris Cotton

Director of Research

Christopher Cotton, Ph.D., is a Professor of Economics at Queen’s University, where he holds the Jarislowsky-Deutsch Chair in Economic and Financial Policy and serves as the Director of the John Deutsch Institute for the Study of Economic Policy. He is an award-winning instructor and academic researcher, who is extensively published in leading scientific journals. He is also one of the owners of Limestone Analytics, where he serves as the firm’s Director of Research.

He has nearly two decades of experience as a professional and academic economist. He has served as Team Lead, Evaluation Lead, or Senior Economist on many projects, including work for DFID UK, USAID, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), UNICEF,  World Vision, Nutrition International, and others. 

In addition to playing a more-intensive role in certain projects, Dr. Cotton serves as a Director of Research across Limestone’s extensive project portfolio. He contributes to methodology, research design, analysis, and interpretation of results, and plays the role of academic reviewer, helping assure that each of our projects adheres to the highest standards of quality.

Dr. Cotton’s academic research is of particular relevance for Limestone and its clients. He is an internationally-regarded expert on the economic modeling of evidence-driven financing and political systems and has spent years conducting rigorous field experiments to assess the impact of policies and programs, often focusing on education interventions and their impact on the learning and wellbeing of marginalized groups. He joined Limestone in 2016, recognizing a unique opportunity to apply his deep academic understanding of evaluation methods and funding systems in order to make a difference in the real world.

He is a leading expert on the economic impact of COVID-19. During the pandemic, he was selected to serve on the Royal Society of Canada’s COVID-19 working group on the economy and was the economics lead for Canada’s COVID Strategic Choices Group and a major grant by Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster, both efforts focused on bringing together health and economic projections to help policymakers better understand the tradeoffs in their decisions. He regularly consults with policymakers and the media on the economic costs of alternative mitigation and recovery strategies. 

Some of his other projects involve efforts to drive smarter evaluation and funding decisions within organizations. This includes helping organizations adopt “best fit” evaluation strategies that balance the potential for learning with the costs of data collection and analysis, making sure that costly evaluation efforts are focused on the learning opportunities that have the greatest potential to improve future decisions. He also helps both donors and implementers pursue “best fit” funding strategies for their projects. He is a proponent of results-based financing (and impact bonds), but only in situations where such opportunities are appropriate given the amount of uncertainty surrounding a project, the potential for implementers to influence outcomes, the ability to evaluate outcomes of interest, and the willingness of different stakeholders to take on financial risk. Ultimately, he hopes to influence the way that billions of dollars are allocated each year by donors and governments, in order to minimize waste and maximize impact.

He was a co-creator of the CPIA certificate program at Queen’s University, which provides training to professionals from government, NGOs, and the private sector. The focus of the program is on defining and measuring impact and developing “best-fit” evidence and funding strategies. He also has served as Team Lead for the development of series of courses at USAID to teach education officers about public and private sector finance. He is an excellent public speaker and instructor, who regularly delivers invited lectures at universities and conferences, and has developed lectures on specialty topics such as results-based financing for several development organizations such as USAID and Global Affairs Canada. 

In addition to publishing in leading academic journals such as American Economic Review, Management Science, and the Journal of Public Economics, his research has been profiled in articles in popular outlets such as US News & World Report, Quartz, and Forbes. He has also written columns discussing current events for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other outlets, and often serves as an expert source on political and economic issues for national news outlets such as The Globe and Mail, Vancouver Sun, Miami Herald, the CBC, and the Canadian Press.

Education

  • Ph.D. Economics (2008)
    Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA
  • M.A. Economics (2007)
    Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA
  • B.A. Economics (2001)
    Michigan State University, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA