Felicity Profile

Dr Felicity Matthews BA (Hons), MA, PhD (Sheffield)

Senior Lecturer in Politics

Contact Details
Email: f.m.matthews@sheffield.ac.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)114 2221651
Fax: +44 (0)114 222 1717
Room: 2:03


Dr Felicity Matthews joined the Department of Politics in 2012 and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2013. She has previously held a lectureship in the Department of Politics at the University of York; a Leverhulme Fellowship in the Department of Politics at the University of Sheffield; and an ESRC-funded Post Doctoral Fellowship at the University of Exeter. She was awarded her PhD from the University of Sheffield in 2008; and her doctoral thesis was awarded the UK Political Studies Association’s ‘Sir Walter Bagehot Prize for Best Thesis in Government and Public Administration’.

Felicity’s research expertise cross-cuts the fields of public administration, executive politics, parliamentary studies and political participation. She has received grants the Leverhulme Trust, ESRC and British Academy to support her research. Her current work focuses on the interplay between formal constitutional rules and de facto political practices, and how this affects the exercise of power within and across the British state.

Felicity is the co-editor of Policy & Politics a leading international journal in the fields of public administration and political science. She has consulted for a range of government, parliamentary and non-government organisations including the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution, the Centre for Social Justice and the Institute for Government. She is an experienced political communicator, and is a regular contributor to national and local television and radio.

Professional activities and recognition

  • Co-editor of Policy & Politics, a leading international journal in the fields of public administration and political science.
  • Reviewer for a number of academic publishers including Oxford University Press, Polity, Routledge and Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Referee for several leading peer-reviewed journals including Governance, Public Administration and Political Studies.
  • Member of the ESRC Peer Review College.
  • Academic convenor of the Political Studies Association International Annual Conference 2015.
  • Member of the Political Studies Association’s ‘Reaching Out Commission’ (2015-2016).
  • Key leadership roles include Chair of Teaching Committee (2010-11), Director of Recruitment (2012-present), and Faculty Deputy Director for Learning and Teaching (2014-present).

My research brings together three hitherto separate strands of scholarship: executive politics, public administration and constitutional politics. Through critical engagement with theories of governance and state capacity, my research has challenged prevailing assumptions and advanced scholarly debate regarding the existence of a so-called hollow state, countering arguments that the sovereignty and agency of national governments have been eroded by external forces. My work demonstrates that national governments are far from ‘hollow’ as they still possess unique resources – democratic legitimacy, access to the key organs of the state, prominence on the world stage – enabling them to preserve their centrality in the policy process; and also identifies the new tools of strategic governance that have been developed to consolidate this position.

Four main achievements can be identified. First, my research on government targets demonstrates the utility of an ostensibly managerial policy tool as a means of achieving strategic policy objectives. This argument was explicated in a single-authored book  published by Oxford University Press, which presents the first in-depth analysis of the 1997-2010 Labour Government’s programme of ‘governance-by- numbers’. Second, my work on ministerial patronage challenges pre- existing (mis-)conceptions to posit critical arguments regarding the value of patronage as a governing resource. In particular, I demonstrate how – in the context of delegation – the ability of ministers to appoint trusted individuals to semi-state ‘quangos’ enables governments to strengthen their political and operational control. Third, I have evaluated the capacity of governments to respond to cross-cutting contemporary policy challenges, such as climate change mitigation and adaptation, identifying key lessons regarding the efficacy of political and administrative responses. Fourth, my research on constitutional politics demonstrates how institutional cultures and norms affect the ability of national governments to respond to pressures for constitutional transformation, and to manage the resultant operational and political uncertainties.

My work has had a wide-ranging impact on various audiences. It has been cited by scholars in both the social and natural sciences; quoted in a range of Westminster parliamentary reports; and utilised by practitioners throughout the world, including the Republic of Ireland’s National Economic and Social Council and Thailand’s Office of the Prime Minister.

Key Projects and Grants

Awarding Body: The British Academy

People Involved: Felicity Matthews
Title of Research: ‘Constitutional Crossroads and Coalition Politics’ – Grant Ref. No. SG131355
Years funded: 2014-15
Total award: £7,999

Awarding Body: The Leverhulme Trust
People Involved: Felicity Matthews
Title of Research: ‘Governing climate change in an era of uncertainty – the political, economic and social imperatives of delivery’ – Grant Ref. No. ECF/2009/022
Years funded: 2009-11
Total award: £44,458.00

Awarding Body: ESRC
People Involved: Felicity Matthews
Title of Research: ‘Steering the British State: Emerging Patterns of Governance, the Strategic Capacity of the Centre and the Public Service Agreement Framework’ – Grant Ref. No. PTA-026-27-1718
Years funded: 2008-9
Total award: £62,311.88


As a lecturer and active researcher, I relish the opportunity to teach students and to share my passion for the discipline. My teaching is closely aligned to my research interests and courses that I have taught have focused on the role and operation of government; British politics; and policy-making and implementation. I seek to enthuse students and use a range of devised a range of innovative teaching techniques, including research-based seminar tasks, real-time case studies, mock scenarios, videos and music.

I am the module leader for ‘Never Mind the Ballots! State and Society in the UK Today’, which is a popular second year option module. On this module, we explore changing state-society relationships across the UK, and their impact on government institutions. We consider the implication of both long-term trends such as devolution and decentralisation, and of short-term shocks such as Brexit and hung parliaments. I encourage students to think about the relationship between governing myths and governing realities, and the impact that perceptions of where power lies have upon the actions of political actors.

I am also the module leader for ‘Policymaking in the Real World’, an exciting new option module on the MA Politics, Governance and Public Policy. On this module we explore the processes of policymaking in all their complex, messy and ‘wicked’ glory. Given the multiple risks and crises they must deal with, how can policymakers come up with effective policy, learn from mistakes and deal with unexpected events? What tools can they employ to do so and how can we evaluate their success or failure? I work with students to develop theoretically informed but practice-focused responses to critical questions.

I also enjoy working with students of all ages who may have studied politics before, in order to expose them to our exciting and vital discipline. I recently ran a week-long project with students from across the University of Sheffield called ‘Understanding Sheffield’s Brexit “Shock”’. This was an incredibly exciting project. Over the course of one week, students conducted face-to- face survey interviews with over 400 residents across the city regarding their political attitudes and voting behaviour in the EU referendum. As part of my remit as Faculty Deputy Director for Learning and Teaching, and with specific responsibility for ‘widening participation’, I frequently teach primary, secondary and college students from across the Sheffield region. Together, we have considered a range of important political issues, such as the lowering of the voting age, the role of the judiciary in defending human rights, and the relationship between politics and the media.

Finally, I am responsible for supervising undergraduate projects and dissertations, MA dissertations and for supervising PhD students working on a varied range projects.

PhD Supervision

I am keen to supervise research students in the following areas: government and governance; state capacity; policy design and implementation delivery; citizen engagement; political leadership; and British politics.

In particular, I would be delighted to receive applications from students who are interested issues including (but not restricted to):

  • The politics of the British constitution
  • Devolution and inter-administration relationships within the UK
  • Delegation, quangos and the politics of Whitehall
  • Legislative scrutiny and the capacity of select committees
  • Brexit and the repatriation of parliamentary sovereignty
  • The effect of Westminster’s institutional norms and culture on the process of policymaking
  • Changing patterns of political participation
  • Referendums and representative democracy

I have examined a number of PhD theses and have supervised research students who work in diverse fields including European energy policy; Korean public management reform; Taiwanese environmental governance; participatory governance in India; the utilisation of evidence-based research in the context of post-conflict state building; and the regulation and scrutiny of ministerial appointments.


Key Publications

Invited Papers and Conference Participation

  • 5 July 2017: invited participant in ‘Devolution and Identity in England’ workshop, organised by the British Academy as part of its Governing England project, London.
  • 10-12 April 2017, ‘Majoritarianism Reinterpreted: Effective Representation and the Voter-Policymaker Connection’, paper presented at the Political Studies Association Annual International Conference, Glasgow.
  • 16 March 2017: invited participant in ‘Devolution to Yorkshire and its cities’ workshop, organised by the British Academy as part of its Governing England project, Sheffield.
  • 30 March-1 April 2015: ‘Managing performance within a ‘decentralised’ state – the logic of targetry and the feasibility of target-free delivery’, paper presented at the Political Studies Association Annual International Conference, Sheffield.
  • 16-17 September 2014: ‘Off-Target? The Rise and Fall of Targetry as an Instrument of Delivery’, invited paper presented at the Policy & Politics Annual Conference, Bristol.
  • 14-16 April 2014: ‘The Coalitionising of Collective Responsibility’, paper presented at the Political Studies Association Annual International Conference, Manchester.
  • 14-16 April 2014: ‘The Silent Dogs of Wash-Minster – Parliamentary Scrutiny of Public Appointments, paper presented at the Political Studies Association Annual International Conference, Manchester.

View full list of publications

Media Engagement

Examples of recent TV, radio and other media engagement include:

  • 9 June 2017: Political expert for the BBC’s live post-election coverage. This included BBC 1’s ‘Election 2017 - English Regions, Yorkshire Results’, plus additional live broadcasts on BBC Yorkshire’s ‘Look North’ news updates and BBC Radio Sheffield’s Drive programme.
  • 3 May-7 June 2017: Resident political expert on #asklooknorth, a six-part Facebook Live series by BBC Yorkshire, designed to foster public engagement with politics, especially amongst younger people,
  • 2 June 2017: Interview on BBC 4’s ‘The World Tonight’, discussing young people’s political participation.
  • 23 April 2017: Interview on BBC 1’s ‘Sunday Politics Show’, discussing UKIP and the forthcoming local and general elections.
  • 1 February 2017: Interview in the Washington Post, discussing judicial appointments in the UK.
  • 24 June 2016: Political expert for BBC Radio Sheffield’s 3-hour live broadcast on the EU referendum result.
  • 8 May 2015: Political expert for BBC Radio Sheffield’s 3-hour live broadcast on the results of the 2015 general election.

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