Stephen Sheppard


Relevant Degree Programs


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - May 2021)
Naammaktunga (“I am well”)! Feeding families and people-food relationships in Kugluktuk, Nunavut : exploring what the lenses of food sovereignty and Indigenous resilience can offer to food system governance (2020)

Despite extremely high costs of living, many people in small, remote communities in the Canadian Arctic appear to be successfully feeding their families. In academic and policy literatures, the food security lens has contributed important knowledge about hunger in the north; however, its emphasis on deficits and problems risks overlooking enabling mechanisms of people-food relationships. Lenses (and their underlying worldviews) have been shown to shape food system governance, including responses to food-related phenomena such as hunger. By exploring the capacities of different lenses (food security, food sovereignty, Indigenous resilience) to characterise key aspects of people-food relationships, this in-depth ethnographic research examines and illustrates their potential impacts on northern food system governance. In order to achieve this, I developed a grassroots, holistic understanding of people-food relationships in the hamlet of Kugluktuk, Nunavut using a modified grounded theory approach. Three key overarching themes emerged: identity, living in relation and power/resources. Individual/collective wellbeing is at the heart of these themes. Food nourishes a sense of ‘self’ and identity, which is foundational to living in relation through (food) sharing, being on the land together, visiting and knowledge transmission. Identity and relationships are shaped by participation in power systems (e.g. local/external institutions) and control of resources (e.g. food, livelihood, governance). The lenses under investigation were then applied to emergent themes, revealing that Indigenous resilience was most capable of representing these. This is the first study of its kind in Nunavut, with several important research findings. Northern food system governance may benefit by continuing to enhance community-level decision-making authority, and acknowledging/enabling peoples’ abilities to successfully feed their families and foster individual/collective wellbeing. Continued focus on mitigating factors –what enables – will likely benefit future food-related policy practice and research, and help recognise and support the strengths, resiliencies and wellbeing of northerners. The complexity and nuance of people-food relationships necessitates consideration of appropriate food lenses, such as those informed by Indigenous and wellbeing practices (e.g. living in relation, reciprocity, occupancy) and scholarship, as well as how these are interpreted (e.g. user perspectives), in order to further enhance northern food system governance.

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Future suburban forests in a changing climate: an approach for integrated planning and design in compact communities (2019)

North American suburban landscapes are facing critical pressures such as climate change, increasing human health concerns, and loss of biodiversity and habitat. Suburban forests are a critical component of these landscapes and can help face these pressures in a number of ways. The emerging field of urban forestry is producing research that can inform policy and practice to design and plan for future forests in human landscapes. The field currently lacks tested approaches to holistically integrate the complex multiple factors involved with future planning. This study explores a new framework for a scenario-based approach incorporating a design process to examine potential solutions to these complex problems in a holistic way for suburban forests.A Canadian case study was used to develop and evaluate this framework approach combining multiple methods. Within this approach, future scenarios were used to explore suburban forest configurations in an already compact community through the lens of addressing three major critical pressures. This process was informed by participants representing a range of knowledge groups, including academics, practitioners, and local residents. Indicators and preferences elicited from these diverse participants suggested design directions for the emerging scenarios. During the process, each of the knowledge groups acknowledged some aspects of the indicators and preferences, but all missed something that others prioritized. Four scenarios were produced with distinctly different objectives and suburban forest retrofit configurations within the case study compact community. The scenarios were then assessed with a suite of tools and quantitative and qualitative methods, drawn from within the field of urban forestry and from other disciplines. Through informing, designing, and assessing the scenario set, the research found that there is potential for the performance of suburban forests to be enhanced within already dense built environments, and that a range of options exists for doing this. The combination of methods used in this study provide a holistic approach to support such planning and decision-making processes. The framework provides guidance on configurations and variables for suburban forest design and planning in the face of the critical pressures described above.

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Energy in place: a case study and mental models analysis of engagement in community scale energy planning (2016)

This dissertation has two primary research threads. The first is a case study analysis of three community scale energy planning engagement processes in British Columbia, including community energy and greenhouse gas emissions workshops conducted in the City of Vancouver as part of the Greenest City Conversations Project (GCCP), stakeholder workshops as part of the City of Victoria’s Community Energy and Emissions Plan (CEEP), and public workshops conducted in the City of Revelstoke that investigated the relationships between urban form, energy, and climate change. The second research thread investigates the use of a mental models methodology for evaluating the impacts of engagement on the workshop participants. The research first examines the literature on public engagement in sustainability planning, and the literature on mental models methodologies, developing the rationale for a mental models approach to evaluating engagement in community scale energy planning. The research then turns to the development and conduct of the mental models methodology, starting with initial practitioner interviews to describe the community scale energy domain. These interviews revealed key themes about energy and related subjects that contributed to both the GCCP workshop development, and the construction of the dissertation’s primary research instrument, the pre and post workshop questionnaires. Workshop participants existing mental models of energy are then analyzed based on the results of the pre-workshop questionnaires, using a Multiple Correspondence Analysis (MCA) and hierarchical clustering procedure. This analysis revealed the presence of six primary clusters of energy mental models amongst participants that were used to organize and interpret subsequent research results. The final phase of the research combines a case study and mental models evaluation of the three community energy engagement processes, beginning with the dissertation’s primary research vehicle (the GCCP workshops) and then comparing the three engagement processes for their impacts on participants’ mental models, and for the constituent case study components that defined the workshops. The final chapter then turns to a discussion of the implications of the research for future mental models, energy planning, and public engagement research and practice.

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The use of airborne LIDAR to assess tree species and forest biomass in subtropical forests (2016)

The subtropical forest biome accounts for approximately a quarter of the area of China and is particularly important for local economies, and for maintaining biodiversity and the carbon balance of forest ecosystems. Despite their importance, there is still considerable uncertainty about the characterization and spatial distribution of tree species, as well as the carbon budgets of these forests, many of which have been altered by anthropogenic activities. Remote sensing has the potential to provide quantitative, spatially explicit information for mapping and monitoring forest ecosystems. It is also a cost-effective tool to provide temporally uniform and “wall-to-wall” observations over time. Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) is an active remote sensing laser technology that provides an advantage over most other remote sensing technologies in its ability to provide detailed three-dimensional information of forest canopy structure, which is particularly useful for studying forest biophysical and structural properties. The aim of this dissertation is to investigate novel approaches for using and examining the effectiveness of LiDAR technologies, in order to classify tree species and estimate forest biomass and dynamics, across a study site within the subtropical region of southeast China. Specifically, airborne LiDAR was evaluated for its ability to: (i) discriminate tree species using small-footprint full-waveform LiDAR metrics; (ii) estimate forest biomass components by discrete-return and full-waveform LiDAR metrics; (iii) spatially extrapolate the estimation of forest biomass components, and (iv) predict and map biomass dynamics using multi-temporal LiDAR data. The results of this dissertation confirm that LiDAR-based approaches can make significant contributions to analyze the structure, composition and distribution of tree species across the study site, and provide effective methodologies and techniques for developing high resolution, spatially explicit estimations of forest biomass (and its dynamics). These methods have important applications to sustainable forest management, forest carbon cycling studies and carbon accounting projects.

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Visualising the Industrial North (2014)

Using the Alberta tar sands open pit mines and associated pipelines as a case study, the effectiveness of maps and landscape visualisation displayed within virtual globes in informing public perception of large-scale landscape disturbance and associated impacts is evaluated. While controversy swirls around the tar sands, this proposed “gigaproject” has never been assessed, mapped, or visualised in its totality.Comprehensive mapping and landscape visualisation of this “gigaproject” may be essential for the public and practitioners to understand, debate, and discuss the full scope and scale of this “gigaproject”. Focus groups with a total of 32 members of the general public were conducted in Vancouver and Edmonton. In a typical computer lab setting, participants viewed a Google Earth project showing the cumulative development of the scale and physical footprint of tar sands open pit mines on individual computers. Participants completed an initial and follow up questionnaire as well as engaged in discussion and presentations that were facilitated by the researcher.Based on the results of the focus group study, after viewing using interactive multi-scale media, participants experienced significant learning; perceived the geographic area of the projects as larger than before viewing; in some cases over-estimated the spatial extent and growth of the projects; became significantly more opposed to future projects but not to existing projects; and expressed emotional reactions due to disclosure of key aspects of the project enhanced by the benefits of the display medium. Significantly more participants found 2D maps to be more believable than 3D visualisations. Most participants found interacting with Google Earth virtual globes to be useful in displaying the tar sands project. Major implications of this study are that using virtual globes, such as Google Earth, that allow for seamless transition between multiple scales to visualize very large but poorly understood projects, can increase people's awareness of scale and other environmental implications and may affect peoples’ perception and opinion of those projects negatively. The study suggests that visualization of large irregular disturbances may lead to some overestimation of actual spatial extent, but this does not appear to be related to the negativity of opinions.

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Urban form and building energy: Quantifying relationships using a multi-scale approach (2013)

Cities and energy are fundamentally connected. Approximately half of the energy consumed in urban areas is used by buildings, resulting in over 35% of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Urban form (i.e. building morphology and urban structure) plays an important role in building energy; however, few studies have addressed this role in a comprehensive and quantitative way due to the complexities involved in modeling urban systems. This study provides a multi-scale examination of the relationships between urban form and building energy, using the Metro Vancouver region of British Columbia, Canada as an example. The thesis applies consistent methods of 3D and energy simulation modeling at three scales, ranging from individual buildings to urban patterns (i.e. neighbourhood-scale). Quantified impacts of urban form on building heating demand, cooling demand and local energy generation potential are presented. In total, 12 building archetypes and 14 urban patterns are modeled, ranging in density from 0.3 to 2.3 FAR (10 to 250 uph). Each pattern varies in building form, building arrangement, street configuration and mix of building activities. The results illustrate that building morphology and urban structure do influence building energy demand and local energy generation potential; however, the complexity and heterogeneity of urban form at larger scales is found to abate net impacts as “tradeoffs” occur between the energy-reducing and energy-increasing effects of urban form characteristics. For example, while the heating and cooling demand of individual buildings can vary significantly (30%-70%) with urban horizon angle (an indicator of shading from adjacent buildings), the net impact modeled at the urban pattern scale is far less (as little as 5%). The results suggest that urban form will be one of many tools needed to mitigate current energy consumption and GHG emission levels, and synergies between urban form, building systems and materials, and occupant behaviour should be sought. Findings from this thesis will inform the work of local governments and urban planners with interest in building energy at scales larger than individual buildings.

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Geoptics landscape apparency: a dynamic visual resource indicator and tool for multi-functional landscape planning (2010)

Forest managers must consider visual quality objectives to meet public expectations for use and enjoyment of forest landscapes. These applications of visual constraints have been criticized for being overly restrictive, and for causing a lack of opportunity for appropriate development. At the same time, inadequate planning and design can cause unnecessary visual impacts in the landscape. Past studies of visual vulnerability, visual magnitude, and angle of visual incidence have attempted to identify relative risk of visual impact. A new approach was sought that might help alleviate those problems, and improve the ability to forecast, model, and manage that risk. Perspectival variability affects how the landscape is seen, and poses complex challenges in the planning and management of visual resources. Therefore, a dynamic and quantitative approach to landscape classification was developed to provide greater understanding and control from multiple viewpoints. A landscape illumination mapping technique in a three-dimensional terrain model was applied as an analog for viewing from multiple viewpoints. The intensity of illumination, termed cumulative landscape apparency, provided an indicator of relative risk of visual impact for each grid cell in the landscape model. The model was validated internally through tests and applications and externally through focus group testing. Apparency can provide a new, reliable, geographic information system-based inventory measure that will help guide resource planning, design, and integration. It has been shown to offer a potential enhancement to visual landscape inventory, and is expected to be useful to land managers without a strong background in visual resource management, by reducing their reliance on experts and increasing their success in meeting visual quality objectives relative to current planning methods. Apparency was shown to reveal inherent patterns in the landscape that would be useful for differentiating areas requiring greater and lesser attention, improving harvest design outcomes, and partially automating or guiding the design. The knowledge gained in testing apparency for its relation to plan-to-perspective analysis can potentially provide an indicator for refining resource supply questions. Geoptics is expected to be applicable to a wide array of visual resource management and resource planning mechanisms in BC and other jurisdictions.

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Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2020)
Assessing and analyzing urban tree condition using airborne remote sensing (2016)

Though urban forests play a key role in the sustainable development of cities, the environmental stressors faced by urban trees are numerous. City managers rarely have access to information on the condition of urban trees, which impedes both their management and the study of environmental factors that affect their vitality, such as landscape imperviousness.The research presented in this thesis aims to bridge this gap in information. The capacity of airborne light detection and ranging (LiDAR) and hyperspectral imagery to evaluate tree condition in the city of Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, is explored, and its relationship with impervious land cover is investigated. LiDAR was used to estimate two indicators of tree condition: crown density and tree height. Tree heights estimated by LiDAR were well correlated with field measurements (Pearson’s r = 0.927, p
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Public perceptions of low carbon economy development in smaller cities in China (2016)

Low carbon economies have been proposed in many areas of the world as a strategy to mitigate climate change, including in the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitting country, China. While much effort has been put into developing low carbon economies in major cities in China, less attention has been paid to smaller cities and counties. The goal of this exploratory research is to develop a preliminary understanding of citizens’ perceptions of low carbon economies and their attitude towards low carbon policies in smaller cities (or counties) in China. A questionnaire-based cross-sectional survey was conducted in Fuding City and Zherong County in Fujian Province (southeastern China), with three sub-populations - general public, community residents, and government employees. Results indicated several possible knowledge gaps and inconsistencies in perceptions about climate change and the low carbon economy among citizens. However, citizens did indicate high levels of support for developing a low carbon economy in local areas. Binary and multinomial logistic regression models developed in this study indicated that citizens’ knowledge of low carbon economies and their level of concern about climate change were significant factors influencing their level of support for a low carbon economy. In general, citizens with more knowledge of low carbon economies and a greater level of concern about climate change showed greater support for developing a low carbon economy. However, greater knowledge and more supportive attitudes did not necessarily lead to behavioural changes. This research discovered an ‘attitude-behaviour’ gap between someone showing greater support for low carbon policies and having less intention to change their behaviour (on average, respondents had tried three to four low carbon activities but were willing only to conduct one more low carbon activity to further lower their carbon footprint). Significant differences were found between the study areas and between different sub-populations, which suggested priorities for further engagement and social learning among the populations of smaller cities in China. Findings call for more effort to be put towards informing and engaging citizens in order to improve their understanding of low carbon economies and more closely align behaviours with attitudes in response to climate change.

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A Framework for Designing Serious Games (2015)

Integrating traditional learning content with the feeling of enjoyment that has made commercial video games wildly popular presents a significant design challenge. Serious video games, or games for learning, are most often studied from the viewpoint of disciplines such as psychology or education. There is a lack of applied research to guide serious game design, particularly the development process. Such frameworks are nonexistent or in their infancy. This thesis extends game design theory and creates an applied design framework for serious game development. It focuses on gameplay - the connection between the interactive engagements happening on-screen and the methods by which those events are manifest. Two game design constructs are conceptualized, linked, and illustrated: player archetypes and gameplay themes. The design framework is an applied tool to help serious game designers make video games that are both fun and educational, and that maximize audience appeal. The framework has broad design utility and is suited for use across a spectrum of serious game genres and content areas. The framework is illustrated with examples based on a University of British Columbia serious game project that is the focus of a community-based participatory research project with the municipality of Delta, British Columbia. The game, Future Delta 2, represents a new way to engage hard-to-reach community groups like youth in building awareness and action around the local causes and impacts of climate change.

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Eco-Industrial Network Planning in the Face of Climate Change: An Exploratory Study using Landscape Planning Approaches (2015)

This study explores the opportunities and challenges in combining three areas of planning: Eco-Industrial Networking, Climate Change Adaptation and Climate Change Mitigation. The Tilbury Industrial Park in the Corporation of Delta on the Fraser River was used as a case study to examine opportunities and challenges in integrating eco-industrial network planning into climate change planning, with a focus on adapting to local climate change vulnerabilities. A multi-phase approach was used including document analysis, precedent case studies, indicator development, mapping, industry leader interviews and guided feedback from expert reviewers in the planning sector. The goal was to understand existing knowledge and perceptions in these three areas of planning, and to use visual tools to engage further exploration of ideas that may support more than one planning objective simultaneously. Study findings suggest that industry leaders’ understanding and perceptions of the three areas are inconsistent. Interview participants had the greatest understanding of climate change mitigation goals, though not always positive perceptions of the mitigation policy tools being used. There was some understanding of eco-industrial networks (EIN), with generally positive attitudes towards the concepts in meeting industry planning and sustainability ambitions. Climate change adaptation was least well understood initially but enhanced by visual tools presented to participants, which focused mainly on localized and interactive maps. None of the three areas of planning (adaptation, mitigation, and EIN) appeared to be strong drivers of change, with the exception of mitigation more recently driven especially by corporate policy. Visual tools led to better understanding of EIN and climate change planning and new ideas. This suggests that these methods could be replicated and enhanced within more formal planning processes for further co-development of knowledge and opportunities for integrating EIN and climate change planning, in Delta and beyond. Additionally this could promote positive perceptions of new climate change adaptation plans in the future. Using the methods explored here could lead to co-benefits being better understood by industry stakeholder and may support more integrated planning, building on positive inertia from existing collaborations at Tilbury. Recommendations for government and industry to further these aims are provided.

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Can 4D visioning foster community responses on climate change? (2013)

This research addresses the need for processes at the local government level that can effectively move communities towards taking meaningful action on climate change. It evaluates the long-term impact of one such process – the Local Climate Change Visioning Project (LCCV): a community engagement and decision support process in two case study communities: Delta and North Vancouver. The LCCV process uses landscape visualization tools integrated with participatory modeling and future scenario development to illustrate to local government staff, stakeholders, and the broader public what their community could look like under various future scenarios of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Through a document analysis and 12 semi-structured interviews with stakeholders who participated in the LCCV, this research project attempts to discover if the process can facilitate the adoption of climate change mitigation and adaptation responses at the municipal level. While the LCCV was not able to shift the development path of the local communities, the LCCV did help to facilitate action on climate change.

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