Coping with information gaps

The Key to Governing the Fragile Baltic Sea


This practice illustrates the fact that information gaps are different and each gap needs different measures in order to cope with the lack of necessary information while preparing maritime spatial plans. It capitalises on Polish expereince related to MSP based on such projects as PlanCoast and BaltSeaPlan.

Sea Basin(s): 
Application in MSP: 
Applied in an MSP process
Not sector specific
Type of Issue: 
Type of practice: 
Stage of MSP cycle: 
Analyse spatial aspects
Cross-border / trans-national aspect: 

Questions this practice may help answer

How can a MSP be prepared in case of lack of relevant data and/or information?

Implementation Context

Polish legislation on MSP was in place  in 2003, however; due to its very general character and need of more solid experience on how to run the MSP process, the Polish Maritime Authorities decided first to acquire more knowledge and know-how on practical issues related to MSP. International projects such as BaltSeaPlan and PlanCoast were used for these purposes. Thanks to their financial and intellectual support, a pilot plan for the western part of the Gulf of Gdańsk was prepared in 2008 and transboundary pilot plans with Sweden, Denmark, and Germany were developed in 2010-2012 for the Pomeranian Bight and for the Middle Bank. During elaboration of those plans some important information gaps were identified. The three aforesaid pilots allowed testing of the range of information needed to develop a maritime spatial plan. It emerged that: (i) in many cases information is not available, or else not precise enough spatially (as regards to ichthiofauna), and is so costly to obtain that it simply increases the level of uncertainty associated with the drawing up of maritime plans, (ii) there is a need for information on both sea areas and the adjacent areas on land, (iii) geomorphological information should have far greater significance ascribed to it than has been the case with the plans under discussion.

On the other hand, insufficient information should not prevent the preparation of maritime spatial plans. The risk is, however, the development of the research and surveying agenda on a first come, first served basis without wider strategic considerations. Insufficient information coupled with a growing demand on the part of developers for a more intensive use of the sea space due to the appearance of new business opportunities (e.g., shale gas, renewable energy, international transmission infrastructure) might lead to a stalemate in MSP.

aspects / Objectives

Although at first glance, information gaps in the planning process look similar (lack of information), they vary in terms of their reasons and impact on the MSP process. There are information gaps related to the stock-taking phase and those related to other phases of the planning process, for instance, communication, stakeholder dialogue, monitoring, evaluation and others. Experience accumulated under BaltSeaPlan and PlanCoast indicates that there are four main gaps related to the stock-taking, namely, to the state of knowledge (the existence of data and evidence):

  • lack of information – the issue has not been analysed sufficiently (lack of knowledge);
  • lack of spatial attribution of information – the issue has been analysed but the spatial framework has been omitted (spatially irrelevant knowledge);
  • disclosure gap – the issue has been analysed sufficiently, but there is no incentive for sharing accurate information more broadly (hidden knowledge);
  • temporal gap – the issue exists and can be analysed in the present time-frame, but its future development remains unclear (static knowledge).

There are also two gaps related to the communication and stakeholder dialogue but affecting also quality of monitoring and evaluation:

  • communication deficiency gap – the existing cognitive artefacts/modalities (e.g., language) and information channels are unable to diffuse and communicate precisely the produced and processed information and/or knowledge (e.g., due to its complexity). This gap can result from the difference in the planning procedures and planning culture between countries or an insufficient integration of various disciplines within the planning process (e.g. economics not integrated with ecology);
  • institutional gap – lack of proper information within regulatory frameworks resulting from institutional deficiencies. The ultimate result of the institutional gap is the lack of the necessary policies, regulations, and policy integration, that is, lack of information that regulates actual processes through the communication of the intentions and goals of regulatory bodies (lack of targets, objectives etc.).


Understanding the demand for information and its role in MSP processes might provide a starting point for understanding the nature of the gaps and possible solution to overcome them. The Polish experience indicates that information is necessary in MSP for the following purposes:


  • to frame the planning process and maintain it within relevant developmental contexts;
  • to understand maritime space as the object of planning (static stocktaking);
  • to understand the dynamics of sea space development (dynamic stock-taking);
  • to ensure proper communication throughout planning processes;
  • to ensure the continuity and adaptively of planning processes.

The role of information in MSP can be summarized as follows:   

Main Outputs / Results

A key result offered by Polish inquiry into MSP information gaps is a list of possible solutions that might help to overcome information gaps in the course of the planning process. Each information gap calls for a different approach in order to keep the planning process alive. Some emergency solutions can be applied at a short notice but there is also a need for a more coherent long-term approach to closing information gaps that will secure integrity of the planning process in the long run. The solutions tested by the BaltSeaPlan and PlanCoast planning teams to overcome those gaps and the long term suggestions for the future (for structural changes) are presented below:


This practice is applicable in any country in which MSP should be conducted

Costs / Funding Source


Responsible Entity

Maritime Institute in Gdańsk

Contact Person

Jacek Zaucha