Dr Steve Connelly

Senior Lecturer

Room number: D11f
Telephone (internal): 26916
Telephone (UK): 0114 222 6916
Telephone (International): +44 114 222 6916


I graduated from Oxford with a BA in Physics & Philosophy and then took up a career in overseas development. I was awarded an MSc in Forestry and its Relation to Land Use by the Oxford Forestry Institute in 1988. Having worked in India, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Eritrea I returned to the UK with a commitment to public participation in governance and sustainable development, and an intellectual interest in why these desirable goals are often not achieved. This led to a PhD, at Sheffield’s Department of Urban Studies & Planning, on the impact of local authority policy processes on public involvement in Local Agenda 21. I was appointed as Lecturer in the Department in 2002 and Senior Lecturer in 2011. My principal administrative role in the department is as the Director of our Research School.

I'm also a member of the Nuclear Consulting Group, a group of leading academics and experts in a diverse range of social science and technical fields related to nuclear energy. The Group exists to promote open dialogue and critical questioning of taken for granted policy assumptions. I have also been very active for several years in a campaign through which we created a social enterprise which owns and manages Portland Works, a unique part of Sheffield's industrial heritage.


My research is connected to the core question: in a policy making world dominated by 'process' norms of public participation and partnership, what happens to substantive values?  In particular I'm intrigued and concerned by questions about how and why apparently widely-valued outcomes (such as 'democratic governance' and 'sustainable communities') do not become dominant.  Most of my work has focused on issues of environmental sustainability, justice and democracy, and recently I have developed an interest in how governance changes ('integration') affect welfare services provision. I’m interested in these issues in the global North and the South, and have carried out field research work in Whitehall, Sheffield, the Peak District National Park, Egypt and South Africa.

Current research

Flowing from the ‘core question’ above has been research in several interlinked areas: public and other stakeholder engagement with complex governance structures; planning for sustainable development in both democratic and non-democratic societies; the role of professionals in mediating values in planning and development; explaining ‘governance’ through the interaction of discourses and institutional structures; critical realist policy analysis.  My basic perspective is constructionist, and my research is mainly concerned with learning how those involved in governance understand and enact representation and the legitimation of people, practices and knowledge. I am particularly interested in knowledge processes within governance - the creation of authoritative knowledge through evaluation, and the ways in which stakeholder groups coproduce knowledge. Listen to me talking about 'representation' here.

I have recently been involved in three projects:

  • I am Principal Investigator on 'Translation across borders: Exploring the use, relevance and impact of academic research in the policy process' with colleagues at the Universities of Manchester, Birmingham and Heriot-Watt, in collaboration with the UK central government Department for Communities and Local Government. This is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and is exploring processes of 'translation' of academic research as it enters central and local government policy. This is partly action research, aiming to test solutions to the frustrations often experineced by both academic researchers and policy research 'users'.
  • I am also Co-Investigator on a second AHRC Connected Communities 'legacy' project - "Valuing Different Perspectives" - which is comparing academic- and community-led evaluations of Connected Communities projects.  My role in this is to provide a coherent philosophical underpinning which will allow valid comparisons and contrasts to be made between very different approcahes to evaluation. 
  • I have been closely involved for two years with colleagues in Sheffield City Council and the city's National Health Service, researching and advising on a range of aspects of service integration, in particular evaluation.

Previous research has included: comparing participation from the planner's perspective in the contrasting political environments of Egypt and South Africa; investigating how community-run organisations construct and maintain their legitimacy in the context of urban regeneration in the UK; and investigating the stakeholder and discursive processes involved in sustainable river corridor development, including interdisciplinary knowledge creation by engineers, designers, ecologists and social scientists.


My current teaching is on sustainable development as a concept, planning and informality in the Global South, and principles of social science research for the Faculty’s doctoral students. Throughout I draw directly on my current and recent research, and also on principles of student-centred teaching developed within the university and in previous work in community adult education.

I currently teach on the following modules:

  • TRP333, Environmental Policy and Planning
  • TRP409/617, Sustainable Development: A Critical Perspective
  • TRP4007/6014, Cities of the South: Planning for Informality

PhD Supervision

I supervise a group of PhD students who share overlapping interests and welcome applications for PhD study from people interested in joining this exciting and innovative group.

I currently provide primary supervision to the following students:

  • Salman Aldalbahi, Institutional factors in delivering affordable housing in Saudi Arabia
  • Sarah Linn, Syrian refugees in Middle Eastern cities
  • Caroline McCalman, Nuclear energy and the implications for environmentalism
  • Radmila Schelle, A discursive analysis of indigenous land rights in Brazil
  • Emma Stevens, Collective action and discourse coalitions of energy and climate change
  • Karwan Taha, The significance of sustainability in future planning in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan
  • Chao Wang, The involvement of Chinese civil society in environmental planning

Journal Articles


Other publications

View full list of publications