MSP Options and scenarios

Main Issues: 

Development of scenarios allows planners and decision-makers to assess different alternatives. This method is widely-used in MSP, and maritime visions and strategies development processes. Strategic Environmental Assessment, often conducted in parallel with MSP, also requires the evaluation of alternatives.

Scenarios are often developed in initial stages of an MSP process in order to define and agree on a joint vision and focus of an MSP process. Nevertheless, there are various ways for developing and presenting scenarios. Usually, a number of alternative scenarios can be developed in parallel (e.g. 3 to 4) which are then compared with one another in order to illustrate different future developments and the consequences of various developments and/or decision-making processes.

The 'Handbook for developing Visions in MSP' provides multiple examples of scenario development processes and relevant literature and scenario toolboxes from other relevant fields such as sectoral and urban planning. 

Developing scenarios can have several advantages. It can help raise the awareness of an emerging issue and emphasise the need for planning. It can help steer the discussion and encourage input to the MSP process. When seeing possible changes in the marine environment, stakeholders are more likely to join the discussion and share the information. Scenarios developed in a participative way can help to promote engagement and ownership of the process by stakeholders.

For example, the scenarios for the Latvian MSP were built to support the formulation of strategic goals, priorities and objectives, as well as to demonstrate the positive and negative effects of the proposed scenarios. The scenarios were a particularly important method in discussion with stakeholders. Scenario-building was based on identification of possible development directions (axes) according to the determining factors (driving forces) that affect the marine resources and spatial use, and the situation in maritime sectors. Each of the four scenarios included the following components: i) a narrative story which describes the policy, economic, technological, social and demographic as well as environmental and climate driving forces; ii) semi-quantitative assessment of trends based on selected indicators; iii) spatial solutions. 

Frequently asked questions

Can you provide examples of countries that have made use of scenario development as part of their MSP process?

Considering different scenarios for development is a common tool employed when formulating a Maritime Spatial Plan. Different scenarios, which primarily focus on different driving forces can affect spatial use in the maritime area and its marine resources.

The Maritime Spatial Plan (MSP) for the Internal Waters, Territorial Waters and Exclusive Economic Zone of the Republic of Latvia was published in 2016.  In the development of the MSP four alternative scenarios were put forward identifying different maritime development options, which were then strategically assessed in order to arrive at an optimal sea use solution, which was acceptable to all stakeholders and society. In the Latvian example Strategic scenarios for use of the sea, the following four scenarios were assessed:

  • Economic growth
  • Social well-being
  • Resilient marine ecosystem
  • Development within common space of Baltic Sea Region

The practice description accessed via the link above outlines the objectives, methodology and results of this example.

The MEDTRENDS – Future Trends in the Mediterranean Sea Project was a 12-month project, which was completed in May 2015 and implemented in early 2016. The practice Scenarios of maritime economy for the Mediterranean from the MEDTRENDS project illustrates scenarios of maritime economic activity over the next 20 years. The project analysed the existing situation and potential future trends in 10 maritime economic sectors along with their drivers and environmental impacts. The project examined these sectors at the Mediterranean regional or sub-regional (Adriatic Sea) scales and at the level of 8 Mediterranean countries (Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Slovenia and Spain). A series of reports were published providing an analysis of the existing economic sectors and users of existing marine and coastal resources as well as the current and potential future interactions between sectors in order to reflect their spatial extent. Reports have been created for each individual country as well as on a regional and sub-regional (Adriatic) scale. MEDTRENDS scenarios and other project outcomes within the next implementation of the MSP process in the Mediterranean.

The GAUFRE (Towards a Spatial Structure Plan for Sustainable Management of the Sea) project team has used a software to develop a ‘What if’ model to potentially be used by decision makers. Modelling allows integrated and interdisciplinary assessments of changes over time in a multitude of causal relationships. They allow for the exploration of different scenarios and policy options. MSP expands beyond the boundaries of a single department and requires collaboration between several departments and agencies on both federal and local levels. Stella Architect, a software for modelling and interactive simulations was used for the GAUFRE project. It offers the ability to create holistic system diagrams that can be simulated over time. The systematic view allows the examination of the system and its behaviour to determine where changes are beneficial and to avoid decisions that have a negative impact. Additionally, modelling allows the realization of interactions that are not so obvious at first sight and allows for clear visual communication of results. Insights should be structured in an engaging way to engage with the target audience.

In 2016 the Dutch MSP Authorities commissioned the Dutch Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) to develop Long Term Scenarios for the North Sea for 2050. The development process used participatory mapping. A total of 19 GIS base maps were produced and used during the workshop to capture the input from a moderated group of experts. The drivers for the scenario development do not focus on the MSP solely, but are overarching, aiming to include many new laws and policies and assisting stakeholders in reaching their ambition. To increase awareness about scenarios for the North Sea and stimulate long term forward thinking, a movie was produced during a creative workshop at the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (IABR). The movie, called 2050 - An Energetic Odyssey, focuses on energy transition.


What kind of decision-support tools are available with regards to Maritime Spatial Planning?

According to (Sprague & Carlson, 1982) decision support tools or Decision Support Systems (DSS) are defined as interactive computer-based system designed to help decision makers utilise data and models to solve unstructured problems. Decision support tools are commonly separated into 4 distinct classes according to their focus as follows:

  • Model driven DSS – are often more complex systems using mathematical, statistical or simulation models to generate results.
  • Data driven DSS– do not require a computer model rather allow users to use data to provide specific answers to specific questions for example by selecting options within a database in order to generate a result.
  • Communications driven DSS – facilitate communication between different stakeholders to assist in providing different outcomes. An example of this could be online collaboration systems.
  • Knowledge driven DSS – (also known as expert DSS) use a series of stored rules and facts in order to generate results. These systems are designed to produce results, which mimic the way experts reach decisions.

Below is a list of examples of different decision support tools that are available:

MARXAN site selection tool in MSP

Developed by the University of Queensland Marxan is a model driven decision support tools which is most commonly be used in the selection of site for nature protection. It is reported to be the most widely used decision support software used for conservation planning globally and used in 184 countries globally ( As part of the BaltSeaPlan the Marxan software tool was tested in MSP for site selection of i.e. offshore wind power and/or fishery areas.

DISPLACE Model for spatial fishery planning and effort displacement

The DISPLACE project developed a model based platform primarily for research purposes aimed to transform the fishermen’s detailed knowledge into models, evaluation tools. The software also has the facility to incorporate other utilization of the sea including but not limited to energy production, transport and recreational uses.

DeCyDe for Sustainability Policy tool

The DeCyDe for Sustainability tool is a data-driven, spread sheet based set of indicators and decision support tool that allows coastal communities and Authorities to self-assess their progress towards sustainability goals.

FisherMap - Mapping the Grounds: recording fishermen’s use of the seas

FisherMap is an example of a communication driven decision support tool, which aimed to map the nature and extent of fishing activities and fishermen’s knowledge of marine ecosystems. The tool developed by Finding Sanctuary a regional development partnership aimed to assist them in developing a network of Marine Protected Areas around the coasts and seas of South West England.

A series of interviews were conducted with individual fishermen who also highlighted they areas they used on maps along with providing information of the types of equipment used, species targeted and other relevant information. The results were fed into a GIS database and maps digitised. The information was used to create summary maps, which were made publicly available. 


[1] Sprague, R. H. & E. D. Carlson. Building Effective Decision Support Systems. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1982.

[2] Vanessa Stelzenmüller, Janette Lee, Andy South, Jo Foden, Stuart I. Rogers. Practical tools to support marine spatial planning: A review and some prototype tools, Marine Policy, Volume 38, March 2013, Pages 214-227


What tools and methods are available for developing and presenting scenarios in MSP? 

The choice of scenario techniques depends on the overall aims of the process, the target audience (e.g. policy makers, industry, or public in general), geographical scale considered and the time and resources available within the responsible organisation. Several techniques can be combined and/or coupled with modelling and simulation using, for example, InVEST or ExtendSim software. Analysis of scenarios is also often conducted through SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) or PEST (political, economic, socio-cultural and technological) analysis. Scenarios can take different forms including a story or “narrative”, with maps, graphics, drawings, pictures, etc. 

The 'Handbook for developing Visions in MSP' provides multiple examples of scenario development processes and relevant literature and scenario toolboxes from other relevant fields such as sectoral and urban planning. 

Some of the methods described in the handbook inlcude

SketchMatch - developed by Dutch Government Service for Land and Water management (Dienst Landelijk Gebied, DLG) for the project "Room for the River in Cat’s Bend, Romania", was described in the handbook. This interactive method was was applied in Eforie and Sfantu Gheorghe study cases to identify and visualize potential development paths and facilitate the decision-making process for managers, policy makers and local stakeholders. The aim of the SketchMatch was to lay the basis for so-called ‘spatial development sketches' for integrated MSP in the Black Sea region.

Scenario backcasting - an exercise in which stakeholders choose one or several future images as the starting point for their analysis and subsequently, in working backwards to the present situation, interactively explore which interventions are needed to realise this future. 

Evaluation of variables - matrices for evaluating variables according to their degree of unpredictability, degree of impact and strength and directivity of impact. 

Microsites - the Celtic Seas Partnership future trends used an interactive online platform to present their scenarios. This website allows users to manually manipulate the targets, thereby creating different scenarios, encouraging the user to re ect on the process. The MEDTRENDS project also illustrated and mapped the main scenarios of marine economic performance in the Med-EU countries for the next 20 years. This project also uses an interactive online platform to show an in- depth analysis of the current situation and future trends in four main marine economic sectors, their drivers and environmental impacts. 

VALMER project has developed a Scenario Toolbox with a comperhansive description of specific tools that can be used in a scenario development process. The toolbox provides concrete examples of implementation and supporting documents for an effective implementation of the tools.