Research Projects

Shark Bites & Public Policy

​My research on shark bites and comparative public policy provides ongoing research based on my doctoral research. It is motivated by the way public attitudes, media attention, and the occurrence of human-shark interactions combine to create periods of policy fluctuation or stasis. Central to this analysis is my finding that “we are in the way, not on the menu.” Topics for study include shark culls, shark bite prevention policies, public education, the role of media discourse and the emotionality of the events. I have used mixed methods methodologies to look at these aspects including random experiments, case studies, discourse analysis, and quantitative survey analysis. 

Emotions & the Policy Process

A central theme within my research is the way emotional issues and situations can place pressures on actors and institutions. Indeed, I suggest that there is a relationship between the impacts of emotional environments and institutional arrangements. I have looked at a range of issues including mass shootings (forthcoming article) and comparisons with trucking accidents (in a conference paper with Dr. Chris Walker).

In addition, I have looked at the role of elite actors through the theories and literature on policy entrepreneurship. I have suggested (in a conference paper) that new categories should be considered. Lastly, I have reviewed the way actors may rely on fictional narratives and movies as a way to politically navigate and advantage their situations during highly emotional events. More broadly,  I think it is important to consider the role of movies in influencing public policy and the way movies reflect policy dynamics that can ultimately create norms and public expectations.


​My research into lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) rights is informed by both my practitioner experience as a queer cisgendred man, lobbyist, and non-profit executive but also by the important literature on intersectionality. Key elements of intersectionality are noted below.  

The central question driving my research across these areas is how LGBTQI rights have transformed from “loser” political issues to “winning” political issues. This includes a focus on the role of lobbying, policy entrepreneurship, youth empowerment and entrepreneurship, elite actor behavior, grassroots mobilizations, LGBTQI organizations, and the rise of the LGBTQI state-wide movement.

Twinless Twin Support Research

​​One of the areas of my research that focuses on a largely invisible community related to sibling loss, in particular, twins whose twin has died. The death of a sibling is something that is often difficult to discuss personally and to engage around socially. As a result, there may be less research, funding and support afforded to these communities. This research looks at media attention, policy support, and societal engagement.

Teaching & Research

Teaching: Courses & Philosophy

There is no more important aspect of my life as an academic than my role as a teacher. I believe that teachers can do their best teaching and students their more effective learning when the educational environment is designed to empower students. Empowerment in education means altering the underlying power dynamics so that students are responsible for and to their educational experience. This student-centered perspective places the responsibility on the teacher to create an environment where they (the students) feel safe and equipped to use their tools and skills to do the heavy-lifting. Mine is student-centered, research-based teaching so that teaching and research go hand in hand. I am pleased to teach a number of undergraduate and postgraduate courses. These are listed below and more courses are in development. 

Past and current teaching:

  • ​GOVT 6316 Policymaking, Power, and Politics
  • ​GOVT 6331 Public Management and Governance
  • ​GOVT 6311 Issues in Public Policy
  • ​GOVT 3987 Comparative Public Sector Management
  • ​GOVT 2336 Gender and Human Rights

Research Perspective

Research evidence internationally and my professional experience from the United States and Australia demonstrate that public policies are often made by the powerful to benefit the powerful. My research portfolio is about ensuring the “public” is served by public policy. It comes from years in politics as a staffer, lobbyist, and academic. However, rather than seeing politics as a cynical exercise, I am entirely hopeful. Public policy has changed the world. It can promote policies to help those left behind, bring attention to the invisible, and give power to the powerless. It can inspire citizens to be engaged, shine a light on hidden aspects of the political process, and help hold our political leaders accountable. It can involve stories about an individual’s life experiences and it can highlight quantitative impacts of how real policies impact real people. In short, I am a passionate believer that public policy teaching and research matters.

My personal and professional research focuses on the factors that contribute to policymaking around highly emotional issues and difficult policy questions. In order for public policy to research and tackle the difficult political problems, it is important to understand why certain issues rise on the public agenda and how the nature of a problem informs the ways it is addressed. Examples of this research include policymaking around sexuality and gender identity in the U.S. military, such as the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on lesbians, gays, and bisexuals in the military and separate regulations governing transgender military service. My research also includes analyzing the policy environments and responses to highly charged shark bites and mass shootings. This research can be categorized across four project areas: 

Christopher Neff

Putting "the public" in public policy research

Intersectionality as a perspective on public policy

Intersectionality is the idea that we are complex people who have a lot of different parts to our identity. We may be white, male with a mental health disability, black, female and straight or Asian, transgender and straight - for instance. And we exist as all of these things at the same time. We can't be reduced to one thing apart from the others. Women who are blind cannot be addressed simply as women and have their visual impairment ignored. Well the two points about intersectionality that are key is that (a) people are particularly oppressed at these intersections of identity. Things get worse for women who are disabled on the basis of being BOTH women and disabled - and you cannot relieve the struggles that people face by dealing with one and not the other. And (b) there is a preferred list of identities that people like to talk about. So not only does society ignore that people are multidimensional but it then picks which identity they want to talk about. For instance, class (being poor) is often ignored as is mental health. So these identities are put aside even though a person who is a man with bipolar cannot be helped without addressing both.

2.) This set up establishes a hierarchy of identity that both privileges certain groups AND the way identities are talked about in order to give power back to those in power. So for instance, the media don't talk about mental illness because it makes people feel uncomfortable. And we don't talk about poverty too much because it makes people who are not poor feel uncomfortable. And we talk about gay people through sex or fashion because its understandable on those terms. And television talks about surgeries for transgender people because that's the way they want to consider their identity - as a medical operation rather than a sense of self. So society picks and chooses which identity to talk about and how to talk about it - so that those in power can feel comfortable. All the while, this ignores the real multi-dimensional parts of ourselves (for all people) that operate together. It ignores particularly bad oppressions people face and it lets the media off the hook in the way they present different groups.