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Marine Spatial Planning In Practice: Transitioning Form Planning To Implementation


This best practice provides practical guidance on transitioning from marine spatial planning (MSP) into plan implementation in varying ecological, socio and economic contexts.

Problem, challenge or context: 

While MSP initiatives can be varied in their approaches, they often face similar challenges when transitioning into implementation. This initiative has therefore aimed to strategically address the following questions:

  1. What are the challenges or constraints experienced in implementing MSP?
  2. Which elements of the MSP planning phase are most critical to ensuring effective implementation?
  3. Are those elements specific to certain environmental, socio-political and governance contexts?
  4. Are there lessons that can be learned about important barriers or enabling factors that can assist MSP planning and implementation in the future? (5) What are the capacity needs of planners and practitioners to achieve successful MSP implementation and meet MSP objectives?

The aim of this initiative to gather practical experiences on MSP development and implementation from different local contexts and settings, to understand what are key factors and practices that can support effective and efficient transitioning from planning to implementation. Simplified conceptual frameworks are used for comparative analysis across initiatives.

Specific elements of components: 

The goals of the initiative are to:

  1. provide enhanced guidance on the enabling conditions that contribute to effective transitioning from MSP planning to implementation in different contexts and settings; and,
  2. identify common barriers that could be overcome through learning and knowledge-sharing. The findings of this assessment should assist local, national or regional planners, decision makers and practitioners, across various coastal and marine sectors, to develop and implement MSP in different contexts and settings.
Key lessons learned: 

The transition from MSP planning to implementation is as a major hurdle in all contexts. This study reaffirmed that MSP is a ‘brokerage process’ through which conflicting or competing interests are identified and workable solutions are sought. While reconciliation of conflicting interests is the ambition of MSP, consensus among all stakeholders may not be possible. Some form of executive decision making is often required, if consensus cannot be reached. There is no doubt that MSP is a challenging process. The following components were agreed to as the key enabling factors for a successful transition from MSP planning to implementation:

  1. Meaningful engagement of relevant stakeholders, in all phases of MSP development, implementation and assessment, is the key to a supported marine spatial plan, and its subsequent implementation compliance. This should include securing governmental involvement and commitment early in the MSP process, as it is critical to success in the subsequent MSP implementation phase.
  2. Unambiguous goals are needed to measure progress. They should be established within a well-designed process that provides for good communication, negotiations and compromises towards meeting those goals.
  3. Good governance arrangements and transparent decision-making are critical to maintaining the trust of those stakeholders involved in the process and their support for the MSP plan.
  4. A strong legal framework for MSP implementation, good inter-agency/sectoral coordination, and strong institutional capacity are features of a governance system for MSP implementation, particularly in developing country contexts.
  5. Data and knowledge issues, such as data collation, data sharing and quality assurance, are important factors. They are less important than issues of governance, particularly the effective engagement of stakeholders, throughout all phases of MSP planning and implementation.
  6. Current sources of funding for MSP, particularly in the context of developing countries, often underestimate the sustained effort, time and human capacity required to realise the benefits of MSP.
  7. Develop governance baselines as a basis for monitoring and assessing progress, and ensuring sufficient capacity for enforcement and monitoring condition and compliance in the implementation stage. This is necessary to understand the social and environmental outcomes of an MSP process, and as a foundation for adaptive management.
  8. The importance of local champions for MSP was repeatedly recognised as important to sustained success. The social, economic and environmental context of MSP processes shape the relative strengths, barriers and enabling conditions to effective MSP implementation. The spatial scale, timescale and longevity of financial backing are important variables when assessing MSP processes for signs of success. This reinforces the need to apply common conceptual frameworks for tracking the processes and outcomes of MSP.
Impacts and outcomes: 

The ‘MSP in Practice’ Initiative raised several important questions with regard to future work. It is necessary to:

  1. Develop a greater understanding of how the needs of MSP processes varies by context, using this typology approach and the survey data on MSP outcomes.
  2. Understand whether certain enabling factors appear to be particularly common to successful MSP processes and how this might vary according to context.
  3. Determine how to document enabling factors within the context of a given MSP setting. One option may be to use of the methodological Blue Solutions approach backed by an online platform.
  4. Determine how context specific needs might help tailor future MSP initiatives, as well as future capacity building, to increase the likelihood of successful transition to implementation and the achievement of goals.
Contact details: 
Ole Vestergaard -- Programme Officer UNEP/Division for Environmental Policy Implementation, Freshwater and Marine Ecosystems Branch -- ole.vestergaard AT
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