Research Spotlight: Dr. John Colton

Research Spotlight aims to shed light on the diverse research culture of Acadia University by celebrating the work and interests of our researchers. Each profile features six questions: five about research, one just for fun. Learn about what’s happening across campus and get to know the faces you see every day.

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Dr. John Colton

Community Development and Environmental & Sustainability Studies

Faculty of Professional Studies

In terms of research, what are you working on right now?

My recent research focus has been focused on exploring the socioeconomic challenges and opportunities related to renewable energy development. I’m particularly interested in understanding the factors that support social acceptance or social license.

I have explored this in the context of tidal energy development in Nova Scotia but was also recently commissioned to lead the development of a White Paper through the Institute of Public Policy that explores socioeconomic and engagement challenges in the regulatory frameworks of our national energy policies.  A good example of one of the issues we addressed was how to weight the impact of stakeholder concerns on energy projects such as pipeline development. Whose voices counted more? Those closer to the site of the development and folks most likely to bear the brunt of localized impacts or those voices from further away?

I’m currently working on two projects. One is an energy infrastructure toolkit similar to the one we developed through the Acadia Tidal Energy Institute. My focus is on exploring the metrics and methodologies for measuring socioeconomic impacts (positive and negative) related to energy infrastructure.

The other project is located in Atlin, British Columbia with the Taku River First Nation (TRFN) and an NGO partner, Rivers Without Borders. The TRFN have been at odds with the B.C. government and mining companies for some time on the lower Taku River. In 2001-2002, I worked with the TRFN on exploring other development alternatives that support both community and economic development. I’ve been invited to work with them again this summer (2018) on a visioning process for sustainable tourism.

How does that fit with your broader research interests?

My disciplinary background is geography, more specifically human geography. Sense of Place, the idea of Rootedness were concepts that moved me a great deal. People connect to place in unique and often hard to define ways. Understanding these concepts more broadly from a community perspective has driven the choices I’ve made in my research.

If one were to look at my research over the last 20 years they would see me engaged in sustainable tourism development and Aboriginal tourism development projects, sustainable community development projects, and more recently, work in renewable energy.

On the surface, it would appear that I have my foot in the door of a broad range of projects. But a common element in every research project is the role of community development. For example, a tourism project explores tourism in the context of supporting community development, and a tidal energy project works to understand and articulate connections to place and community and how development might impact these connections, or alternatively, how development might support or even strengthen these connections.

What most motivates you to do research?

Many things motivate me to do research. I’m very interested in learning about people and places and the hidden and not so hidden assets in communities. I’m curious about how these assets and other resiliency factors can support community initiatives that bring about positive change in communities.

I’m actually engaged as a community research mentor through the IWK Micro-Research Network. I work with a small group of residents as a research mentor in a nearby community working on a project to strengthen community cohesion in their community. It’s this type of work, the underlying values and the issues being addressed that motivates me. But I’m also motivated to explore these types of issues in remote and sometimes far-flung places usually with a wilderness element.

What tips do you give your students when they embark on a new research project?

I encourage students to consider what issues are important to them, what do they care about and what would they like to see changed/influenced. When I’m working with my Honours and graduate students we also discuss life trajectory and how might the work they do now influence their path.

I had a graduate student not that long ago that explored Aboriginal ecotourism and community development. In our initial conversations she discussed how she would love to live and work in Haida Gwaii, a group of islands off the coast of British Columbia. In developing her graduate research, we were able to develop a project with the Haida Heritage Centre. After working with the community on her research and following it up with more doctoral studies, she eventually found work on Haida Gwaii at the Heritage Centre working on language development and tourism programming, issues that she explored in her graduate work. 

Do you have any forthcoming publications, events, or talks we should look out for?

Marine Renewable Energy Governance (2018) was recently published by CABI. I authored and co-authored three chapters that explore 1) community and stakeholder engagement principles and practices, 2) conflict in marine energy environments, and 3) Indigenous rights and ownership in the context of marine renewable energy development.

My graduate student and I are also in the process of submitting a paper to the journal Marine Policy that explores social acceptance and tidal energy in Nova Scotia.

The toolkit Measuring the Contribution of Energy Infrastructure: A Practical Guide will be released by the University of Calgary Press in September, 2018. My contribution to this toolkit will be a chapter on metrics measuring socioeconomic impacts of energy infrastructure.

On March 20th, I’ll be speaking at the Port Pub Ideas-Acadia Series. The focus of my talk will be the role of rivers and identity. This is quite a departure from what I’ve been up to research-wise, but it gives me a chance to share my passion for wilderness rivers and connections to place. I’ve been a wilderness river guide in Alaska, Yukon, and Northwest Territories for almost 30 years. This talk will explore the nature of how we connect to rivers personally and historically, and their role in our identities.

Tell me, what are you reading, watching, or listening to for fun these days?

I’m reading a few books in preparation for a three-week trip in April to Peru with Community Development students. These are The Last Days of the Incas (MacQuarrie, 2007), and Turn Right at Machu Picchu (Adams, 2011).

I also like to read first-hand accounts of adventure in the mountains, rivers, or seas. My favorite novelists are John Irving and Richard Russo. My favorite book of all time is The World According to Garp.

These days I’m watching the Olympics.

Research Spotlight is an initiative of the Research & Graduate Studies office. If you would like to suggest someone to be featured in this series, or if you would like to be featured yourself, please contact Deborah Hemming, Research & Innovation Coordinator:

You can also download the form below, fill in your responses, and return it to Deborah by email.


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