Look Ahead – San Mateo


Look Ahead – San Mateo Sea Level Rise Visualization Project

In August 2016, the County of San Mateo, Climate Access, and Owlized launched the Look ­Ahead – San Mateo campaign aimed at:

  • Increasing community members’ understanding of sea level rise risk
  • Capturing community members’ level of concern about current flood risk
  • Inspiring community to take action and adapt to sea level rise

Owlized installed a virtual reality viewfinder in Coyote Point Recreation Area for about five months, where people could see first-hand what sea level rise might mean, and what some of the potential responses might look like. The viewer also allowed participants to share their concerns and support for solutions via polling questions.  The goal of this 5 month effort was to engage the public, decision makers, and stakeholders on the increasingly relevant topic of sea level rise and its associated impacts.


In October 2016, six focus groups were held with key audiences identified by the County of San Mateo County. The key audiences included:

  • County and municipal staff in San Mateo County
  • Elected officials from across San Mateo County
  • Community members volunteering as Conversation Starters

In January 2017, the Look Ahead – San Mateo campaign ended and the owls were removed.

Key Findings

  • The pilot project involved more than 3,100 OWL users and majority of them were
    • Highly concerned about current flood risks
    • Supportive of immediate community action

About one fourth of OWL users were keen to play a more active role in their communities in the adaptation planning process and one-fifth users were interested in getting more information and updates about the adaptation planning process.   Read the full research summary here.

The key learnings from this pilot project for any adaptation or climate change related initiative in the future would be to:

  • Focus on informational outreach
  • Use effective climate change visuals to help low-concern audiences get interested and engaged.
  • Maintain or increase direct community engagement
  • Develop and engage top-level leadership to create a sense of efficacy and responsibility
  • Help community members find concrete, doable actions to take to build community resilience.