Indicators, monitoring and evaluation

Main Issues: 

Performance monitoring and evaluation is a key need for every MSP process, as well as the resulting maritime spatial plans, in order to check the effectiveness of measures and adapt to changes in environmental conditions and uses of the sea and to asses if the plans are “successful”.

Therefore, MSP can benefit from both quantitative and qualitative assessments. Qualitative assessments are based on various checklists and other procedures related to involvement of experts and stakeholders. Quantitative assessments usually offer results that can be compared in time. Although usually they are unable to cover all MSP aspects they can inform the evaluation process, trigger relevant ”qualitative” evaluations and serve as a starting point for more complex discussions on MSP performance. Quantitative evaluation requires that MSP objectives are linked to appropriate indicators – in order to allow their measurement and evaluation of the performance of each management action over time. Indicators can act also as early warning signals.

The Handbook on MSP Indicators presents a step-by-step approach to formulating objectives for MSP and to developing the appropriate MSP indicators customized to the context. These indicators allow monitoring different dimensions of MSP measures and assess the achievement of targets at different levels. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions for MSP and related indicator development, which is why a flexible approach is needed and customisation to local contexts. A short hands-on version of the manual exists alongside a more in-depth version.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can objectives for MSP be formulated and linked to indicators?

For authorities to be able to monitor MSP and develop appropriate indicators,   objectives need to be formulated. MSP objectives should adhere to the SMART criteria:

  • Specific: Objectives should be concrete and not too broad.
  • Measurable: Objectives should ideally be formulated in a way that allows quantification.
  • Achievable:  Objectives should be reachable within the given timeframe and the relevant context.
  • Relevant: Objectives should correspond to the needs identified. Also, the objectives should be influenced by MSP.
  • Time-bound: Objectives should be situated in a specific timeframe.

At the same time, as explained in the Handbook on MSP Indicators, these objectives can be situated at different levels:

Only process and operational objectives are within the control of the MSP authorities, while the other levels are impacted by MSP and external factors. High-level objectives should still be taken into consideration in the planning processes, as they often result from political plans in which MSP is situated.   

Once objectives have been formulated, they can be linked to indicators that measure their achievement at all different levels:

  1. Overarching Blue Growth indicators. In line with the Blue Growth Communication, jobs, added value, and GHG reduction can be used as overarching indicators. Depending on the MSP objectives, authorities can customise the indicators to a specific sector of the blue economy. These indicators are mostly to be used as context indicators rather than for measuring the success of MSP.
  2. Impact indicators (e.g. MW of wind power generated at sea) measure the achievement of global objectives and observe the evolution of Blue economy sectors. Outputs and outcomes have influence over these indicators, but they extend beyond the control of MSP authorities.
  3. Outcome indicators (e.g. Capacity of oil / gas installations at sea) are linked to the different sectors of the blue economy and reflect socio-economic and ecological aspects. Some are controllable by the MSP authorities, while most of them are not. They can also be developed to measure efficiency of different maritime uses, by linking a certain output to the space assigned to the activity.
  4. Output indicators (e.g. Maritime space assigned for tidal energy installations) are a direct product of MSP processes and measure progress towards operational objectives. They should be linked to operational ecological objectives, consider land-sea interactions (as required under the MSP Directive), but can also monitor blue economy sectors.
  5. MSP process indicators can be quantitative or qualitative. Qualitative indicators (e.g. Availability of sufficient staff assigned to MSP processes) may be binary or use appropriate scales. Quantitative indicators (e.g. Number of consultations held with neighbouring countries) consider aspects of the MSP processes that are directly measurable and quantifiable (stock-taking, coordination, securing resources, stakeholder perspective). A shortcoming of quantitative indicators is that they might not account for the quality of the processes. MSP authorities may ideally develop a combination of both types of indicators. 
  6. Additional Ecological indicators monitor include specific ecological objectives included in MSP, however these are usually broad horizontal objectives and are related to objectives for certain Blue economy sectors. The MSFD (Marine Strategy Framework Directive) sets out the marine environmental objectives and the descriptors used by MSFD can be used as ecological indicators for MSP processes. 

When formulating MSP objectives, a number of tipscan guide planners in the process and make sure the objectives are fit for purpose:

  • Consider the Blue Growth objectives (jobs, growth, safeguarding biodiversity and protecting the marine environment), national strategies/policies/action plans, as well as objectives set out in regional and local strategies/policies/action plans.
  • Define objectives for the different sectors of the blue economy.
  • Define environmental/biodiversity objectives.
  • Define objectives for the MSP process.
  • Take into account the various levels and structure them logically. 
  • Ensure the objectives respond to all SMART criteria.
  • Discuss and agree on the right type of objectives with the right stakeholders.


How can MSP authorities define indicators?

After MSP authorities have defined the MSP objectives, planners can design or select appropriate indicators for each level.

The Handbook on MSP Indicators suggests to first consider the availability of information. At the higher levels of indicators (e.g. impact), information sources are mainly official statistics. Regarding indicators on aspects under control of the MSP authorities, data can be collected from stakeholders, existing studies and from the authorities themselves. 


  • Verify if the indicators are cost-effective with regard to the cost for obtaining the data.
  • Consider all available sources of information and verify if the data is validated.
  • Ensure the data is up-to-date, available at the required frequency,  at the correct geographical level.

Next, planners should define baseline values for each indicator. The value set as the baseline will be used to compare change registered by the indicator. The baseline allows making an initial assessment of the situation and monitoring improvements or deteriorations linked to MSP. 


  • Identify baselines for every indicator. If not possible, explain why there is no baseline.
  • Set the baseline year as close as possible to the year of adoption of the MSP.
  • Baselines can be taken from a preceding generation of maritime spatial plans.

The third step is to identify external factors and to set target values that are aligned with the objectives. They may include interim and final targets. External factors outside the authorities influence are more significant at the higher levels and reduce their control over reaching the target values at these levels. In addition, authorities should clearly flag any assumptions made to reach the target values. Therefore, the validity of these assumptions also needs to be verified in time. 


  • Consider all main external factors that could affect the reaching of the target values.
  • Clearly state the assumptions that need to hold true in order to reach the expected targets.
  • Make sure the indicators are achievable within a given timeframe and context.
  • Make sure the indicators are time-bound,  so that targets are set for an intermediate/final year of achievement. 
  • Ensure that baseline values and target values in the same measurement unit and result from the same calculation methodologies/sources.





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