Strengths and weaknesses of Coastal Information Systems


One of the main challenges in the implementation of ICZM and MSP is the integration of different sources of knowledge and different typologies of data. The study “Options for Coastal Information Systems” promoted by EC DG ENV (2011) aimed at identifying key structuring requirements and related policy options for Coastal Information Systems (CISs) that may significantly improve support to ICZM through scientifically-based data, functions, tools and mechanisms. Although the focus of the study was specifically ICZM, some of the results of the study can be transferred to the MSP context, especially because 40% (16 out of 40) of the analysed information systems fully dealt with both land and marine-maritime issues. Moreover, according to the analysis 11 out of 40 CISs somehow considered MSP or sector planning at sea among their scope.

Sea Basin(s): 
Application in MSP: 
Applied in a related process
Not sector specific
Type of Issue: 
Type of practice: 
Stage of MSP cycle: 
Cross-border / trans-national aspect: 
Coherence with other processes: 
Integrated Coastal Zone Management

Questions this practice may help answer

  • What are the main strengths and weakness of coastal information systems?
  • What actions can be promoted to improve use of information systems in ICZM and MSP?
  • What are the benefits and impacts of these actions?

Implementation Context

In 2011 the European Commission launched an initiative to review the European Parliament and Council Recommendation concerning the implementation of Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) in Europe adopted on 30 May 2002 (2002/413/EC). An impact assessment was therefore conducted to explore the need and options for future EU actions on ICZM and to assess potential social, economic and environmental consequences that new actions may have. This implied a wide variety of activities, as: an on-line public consultation, a public hearing, Member State reports on progress in ICZM implementation, the OURCOAST project gathering and disseminating case studies and practical examples of coastal management practice in Europe, specific studies to inform the impact assessment including the study “Options for coastal information systems”.

Aspects / Objectives

One of the main challenges in the implementation of ICZM and MSP is the integration of different sources of knowledge and different typologies of data. Elements characterising such challenge include: gathering and proper structuring of relevant data; sharing of ready-to-use information to decision makers, planners and other stakeholders; transparent communication to citizens; effective and concrete use of data and information in policy making and planning. The diffusion, further development (including innovation) and actual use of coastal and marine information systems can play a relevant role in supporting ICZM (and MSP) implementation. The study “Options for coastal information systems” aimed to contribute to this overall goal, in particular identifying key structuring requirements and related policy options for CISs that may significantly improve support to ICZM implementation through scientifically-based data, functions, tools and mechanisms.


The study was organised in three main tasks. The first one dealt with the overview and in-depth analysis of CIS illustrative cases to depict main characteristics of existing operative systems, related strengths, weaknesses and gaps in supporting ICZM. Based on Task 1 results, the second activity (task 2) identified policy requirements and related policy options to improve CIS support to the diffusion and implementation of ICZM at various scales. Within the context of the study, a policy requirement was defined as a requisite that can be concretely implemented in a coastal information system to improve the use of the same CIS within the ICZM process. Policy options were defined as integrated and homogenous sets of the key structuring policy requirements. After their formulation, task 2 assessed policy options in terms of expected (direct and indirect) benefits and costs or negative effects. Stakeholders were engaged to support various steps of task 1 and 2 as CISs identification, analysis of strengths, weakness and gaps, and verification of preliminary formulated CISs policy requirements; task 3 activities included a stakeholder workshop held in Marseille in May 2011.

Main Outputs / Results

The study provided an overview of 40 CISs and an in-depth analysis of 12 CISs to illustrate the main characteristics of existing operative systems, including their strengths, weaknesses, gaps and limitations in supporting ICZM implementation:

  • For the great majority of CISs considered (70%) the geographical area of interest was mainly defined by administrative boundaries (in particular for the national and sub-national levels), with possible limitations in capturing cross-border processes, including in particular transnational dynamics. For the remaining 30% of the cases (in particular local level ones) the area of interest was somehow defined considering the requirements of the ecosystem-based approach.
  • There was an evident gap in terms of coverage of socio-economic data, and in particular governance data, while environmental and territory information were properly represented in the analysed CISs.
  • Other data and information gaps or weaknesses were related to: (i) availability of integrated information resulting from the joint analysis of different data typologies (e.g. integrated maps, indicators and indexes), (ii) historical series, generally limited to a small number of specific issues, (iii) climate change related data, (iv) 3D data (e.g. DEM).
  • Almost half of the considered CISs provided basic ICZM knowledge and process related functionalities. More advanced ICZM functions were less frequent e.g.: ICZM indicators or functions supporting stakeholder involvement, vision building, scenario development, adaptive planning and management. The study clearly highlighted the need for a better understanding of what outputs are needed and the associated functionality required to deliver these.

Quite a relevant number of CISs relied on licensed software, as the use of open source software was (in 2011) still limited. However, about 50% provided direct access to and possibilities to download geo-spatial data. Metadata were transparently provided by a good number of CISs (about 70%), often referring to INSPIRE Directive requirements.

The CIS study pointed to two main challenges to be addressed:

  • Underuse or improper use of existing coastal information systems within the ICZM (and potentially the MSP). Coastal information systems include relevant information, functions and tools that could be used to support the ICZM process. However, in some cases these are not fully exploited, leading to the recommendation to encourage greater cooperation among CIS managers and ICZM actors (e.g. policy developers, planners, etc.) in order to embed the development and use of CISs in the processes of policy making and coastal and marine planning and management.
  • Develop new CIS features which address weaknesses and gaps in CISs and further improve their use within the ICZM (and potentially the MSP process) at various scales.

To address such problems the study ended with the identification of a number of policy requirements (related to CISs’ scope, contents, functions and mechanism), that were grouped in three policy options:

  • P1 – Improving data and information base; dealing with the principal identified data and information gaps, related to: socio-economic and governance data, integrated information, multi-time data, climate change data, etc.. The final goal of P1 is the development of a wider data base addressing the integrated nature of ICZM. Implementation of P1 mainly relies on the integration within CISs of already existing data and information, still not included in the system, rather than on the acquisition of new data or the realisation of new study.
  • P2 – Improving and innovating functions and tools; aiming to improve the availability of functionalities and tools directly supporting ICZM actors (ready-to-be used functions and tools), as well as to increase stakeholders’ involvement and participation in the ICZM process.
  • P3 – Enhancing cooperation; aiming to increase cooperation among different actors involved in CISs management and more in general in the ICZM process. Specifically, increased horizontal and vertical cooperation is desirable among: structures of the same authority involved in ICZM and/or the CIS’ management and operation, different public authorities involved in the ICZM process, different coastal data providers and managers, managers of different CISs related to the same area of interest.

Similar recommendations (in particular those related to P2 and P3) could be made for improving the use of available marine information systems in MSP, especially the need to market the available systems more effectively to planners and managers (awareness-raising) and to improve collaboration between systems developers, data managers and planners in order to tailor the available systems to actual requirements and fill existing gaps.


Although the focus of the study was specifically ICZM, some of the results of the study can be transferred to the MSP context.

Contact Person

Emiliano Ramieri
Castello 2737/f, 30122 Venice, Italy

Responsible Entity

European Commission, DG Environment