MSP Research Themes & Topics


MSP is still in its infancy and research is needed to support innovation and learning related to its progress. The MSP Research Network brings together scientists, practitioners and policy-makers who seek to  collaborate in inter-disciplinary research aimed at making a progressive contribution to the development of MSP. They seek to ensure the proper representation of social sciences in their work and that learning takes place across jurisdictions and between the land-sea interface. Although the network’s primary focus is Europe, it has global connections and shares its work internationally. The network has identified the following themes  which will help to define key areas of future work that will help MSP to develop in policy-relevant directions.

1. Frameworks

This theme considers the broader governance frameworks within which MSP is situated, and its institutional relationships to them. These frameworks include political, economic and social structures, legal and policy contexts, and organisational and administrative set-ups. They may be global, regional, national, sub-national or local in nature. They include wider spatial planning and management frameworks, especially systems for
terrestrial planning and integrated coastal zone management.

Examples of research questions are:

  • How does MSP interact with wider coastal management, administrative, planning, legal etc systems?
  • What are the relative advantages of different legal and non-statutory frameworks upon the implementation of MSP?
  • What is or should be the relationship between MSP and ICZM, between MSP and terrestrial planning, and between MSP and MPA initiatives?
  • How do marine forms of property and development rights influence MSP?
  • What role will MSP have in implementing European strategies such as blue growth and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive?
  • How might an ecosystem approach be developed?


2. Purposes

This theme focuses on the interests that are driving MSP forward, its implicit and explicit purposes, and the ends that it is intended to achieve. This draws attention to MSP’s own stated goals, and to the wider politico-social forces behind its uptake and outworking. These issues raise questions of the exercise of power and influence in MSP processes, including the location and distribution of power and the representation of different interests.

  • What is the relationship between economic and environmental objectives and values in MSP?
  • Is MSP succeeding in its stated goal of integrating sectoral interests?
  • Is it possible to define an overarching purpose for MSP, such as upholding the public interest?
  • Which interests appear to be benefiting the most from MSP, and what are the socio-political forces favouring these interests?
  • How is power being exercised by different actors in MSP practice?
  • How might the concepts of ecosystem services and valuation guide MSP practice?
  • How can MSP provide added value for marine management?


3. Processes

This theme focuses on the manner in which MSP is being, or might be, implemented in practice. It is concerned with the institutional arrangements for MSP, the formal processes of planning that are being adopted, the tools being brought into service, and the skills and knowledge that are contributing to its development. It includes consideration of the adoption and adaptation of terrestrial planning and other environmental management processes, stakeholder participation, objectives-setting, GIS tools, and so on.

  • What planning tools are being or should be used within MSP?
  • How can information from GIS and decision guiding tools be amalgamated into MSP?
  • What methods are appropriate at different scales of planning, and what is the relationship between those scales?
  • How representative is stakeholder involvement in MSP, and what methods of engagement might be most effective?
  • How might current developments in terrestrial spatial planning practice and theory, such as the creation of soft spaces, influence the formation of MSP?
  • What methods of scenario-building and visioning might be appropriate in MSP?
  • How can MSP facilitate multi-functionality of marine areas?
  • How might non-regulatory approaches be developed within MSP, intended to change users’ behaviour?
  • How effective a tool is zoning in the marine environment, and what other approaches might be adopted?
  • How can uncertainty be accommodated within MSP processes?


4. Outcomes

This theme is concerned with evaluating the real-world consequences of MSP: firstly, the planning outputs themselves, and secondly, the material differences to marine and coastal environments and human activities that are being brought about by MSP. It is interested in assessing MSP’s means of representation, such as documentation andmaps, the extent to which MSP purposes are being achieved ‘on the water’, and the factors influencing eventual outcomes.

  • What processes of monitoring and adaptive management might be developed for MSP, allowing responsiveness to emerging knowledge and conditions?
  • What systems of evaluation can be developed for measuring the effectiveness of MSP systems and processes?
  • What are the material environmental, economic and social outcomes of MSP processes, and how might these vary in different contexts?
  • How is MSP shaping social engagement with the marine environment?


5. Geographies

This theme focuses on the specific geographical contexts within which MSP Is taking place and their influence upon MSP practices themselves. There is a particular concern here to understand the differential impact of institutional systems and environmental conditions across the MSP world, through, for example, comparative national studies and transnational and sea basin studies. This theme also includes the adaptation of spatial planning to the particularities of marine settings.

  • What specific MSP approaches are developing in relation to individual sea basins or jurisdictions?
  • How might evaluation of MSP systems be applied to understanding differences between MSP implementation?
  • To what extent is transboundary MSP being achieved?
  • What knowledge and knowledge gaps for MSP exist in relation to different geographical areas?
  • How is spatial planning adapting to the dynamics of the marine environment?
  • How does MSP affect our wider social and scientific understanding of the seas and oceans?


6. Capacities

This theme addresses the need to strengthen societies’ capacity to implement MSP, though growing experience, information, training, enhanced skills, new and improved techniques and resource allocation. It aims to identify needs for the future development of MSP and to build capacity accordingly.

  • What are the current data gathering priorities for MSP?
  • How can an adequate infrastructure for MSP be realised?
  • How might different forms of knowledge of actors be integrated in MSP actions?
  • How can spatial planning and marine science skills be successfully brought together in MSP processes?
  • What are the current educational and training needs for the development of MSP expertise and professional practice?
  • How might good practice be transferred effectively to other contexts?

23rd July 2013