Case study: Visuals and conversation help deepen engagement on climate impacts

Case study: Visuals and conversation help deepen engagement on climate impacts

What role can visualizations and deliberative dialogue play in helping build public concern about climate impacts like sea level rise, as well as support for and involvement in local-level solutions?

In 2015, Climate Access collaborated with Marin County, FEMA Region IX, Owlized, Autodesk, NOAA, San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Susanne Moser Research and Consulting, and Antioch University on an innovative engagement effort that aimed to answer these questions. The goal of Here. Now. Us. was to test whether 3D visualizations can help increase public concern for climate-related flooding and sea level rise, as well as whether the technology and experience fosters community engagement in local adaptation planning.

The project placed two OWL digital viewfinders – a device modeled after the classic coin-operated binoculars commonly found at scenic viewpoints – along a multi-use path in Marin Country that illustrated what that location would look like under different sea level rise scenarios, as well as potential ways to respond. The 360-degree audio-visual platform also enabled users to leave audio comments and survey responses while they watched the scenarios unfold before their eyes.

During four months the OWLs were live, we clocked more than 4,000 interactions by individuals. Over 75% of these users indicated they were concerned about the impacts of climate change on their community after viewing scenarios of sea level rise in Marin County. More importantly, our survey results indicate that users who initially expressed no concern about sea level rise reported a significant increase in their level concern after witnessing potential impacts.

The community dialogue event convened after the OWL installations were taken down included over 100 residents, business owners and other local stakeholders. Almost 90% of those who attended said they learned something new from the event, mostly through facilitated conversations in small groups.

Building on research that points to the importance of engagement approaches that help increase personal concern while showcasing positive future outcomes, Here. Now. Us. offers key lessons for other regions hoping to catalyze action on climate change.

Read our recently published case study to learn more about the project.