Communicating MSP

Main issues

Effective communication is an important aspect of an MSP process. The goal of this communication is to easily stipulate what MSP is, and in particular the motivating drivers for MSP, the MSP process and steps, as well as the potential or anticipated outputs and benefits. In general, one can differentiate between “communicating MSP”, which focuses on the creating awareness of the general concept and importance of being involved in the MSP process and “communicating within MSP”, which is content oriented communication between planners and stakeholders on specific issues in a plan in development. In both concepts, effective communication is important for securing the necessary political commitment and resources, as well as for motivating the relevant institutions to become involved – either as direct partners steering the process or as stakeholders.

Stakeholders may have limited time and capacity to devote to the MSP process. Thus, information they receive needs to be understandable and to the point. Moreover, innovative presentation tools are often needed to attract and keep attention. Producing simple visuals, using images, videos or even game elements to present complex ideas or introduce the discussion topics can be very useful. An example of a video explaining MSP to a broad range of stakeholders is the ‘MSP in a Nutshell’ video developed by the GIZ. A humoristic element, which was used in WWF Germany’s Become a Maritime Spatial Planner in 10 minutes, may draw attention to the actual underlying reasons, drivers and potential benefits of an MSP process.

The following questions highlight examples of communication tools and approaches that can be used to inform about the concept of MSP or through an MSP process, both in individual countries as well as cross-border contexts.

Please note that this section of the EU MSP Platform website is not currently being updated with new information. However, the resources throughout our website remain relevant to our mission of sharing knowledge and experiences on MSP in the EU.

Frequently asked questions

The choice of a tool depends on the purpose of the communication (why and what), the target audience, the available budget and staff resources (e.g. to keep a website updated). Communication can be simply about informing people - of process steps, stages, projects, outputs of an MSP- or be a tool for a more interactive, collaborative planning approach that focusses on learning and co-development of a plan.

Concerning informing people, many MSP authorities create a well-organized, visually attractive website to serve as a central information source on MSP in their country. This can provide a centralized location for information on the entire MSP process in one portal, rather than developing separate websites for individual parts of the process. One example is the Dutch Noordzeeloket, which provides a clear outline of different sea uses and plans, or the Finland Maritime Spatial Planning website, where the latest news and events are shared. While MSP may involve multiple distinct government entities, it is useful to have one website for the whole process, rather than multiple pages on individual agency websites, to facilitate ease of use for stakeholders. Different types of stakeholders should also be kept in mind when designing a website, and navigation should allow users to find information targeted to their needs. Websites should be kept as up to date as possible to ensure information is periodically refreshed.

Websites can be filled with all different kind of information. In many cases visual elements are of an added value, if they are easy to understand at first glance. Several MSP authorities have produced short animated videos to describe MSP in general, such as ‘What is Marine Planning?’ produced by the UK’s Marine Management Organisation or the Planning Fundamentals video produced by the Estonian Ministry of Finance (in charge of MSP). Other videos use an interview format to share individual stakeholder perspectives, such as one example produced by the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management.

Printed materials can include flyers or fact sheets for specific themes, such as the ‘Crossing of offshore wind farms for shipping in the Netherlands’. This is one way to share information on a given topic or issue with stakeholders. When maps are shown, it is best to make use of thumbnails, and provide maps for different sea uses as well as maps for the entire plan, such as those for example from the Noordzeeloket. Printed materials can also be archived on a website.

Newsletters and social media are important tools to keep stakeholders informed of latest updates and direct traffic to certain pages on the website. A newsletter should have a reliable, recognizable layout so that readers can expect to find the information they are looking for in the same place each time. Social media channels, such as Twitter, can be used to share short term updates and document event highlights. Organising one account to be used for the whole process, such as the Marine Planning Ireland Twitter account. It is also an effective way to feed news to broader, transnational MSP networks (such as the EU MSP Platform) or specific sector stakeholder platforms.

The main tool for creating an interactive, collaborative planning process is organising workshops. With this tool planners are able to facilitate stakeholder input throughout the planning process, from visioning to elaborating concrete plan alternatives and designations. Pre-workshop information should be designed to attract attendees and include information such as what is at stake for the target audience and what will be shared or discussed. Organising a back-to-back networking event may make the event more appealing for stakeholders to attend. If a meeting is intended to attract a large audience, smaller breakout groups may be helpful to facilitate more in-depth discussions. Interactive tools for a broad audience, such as, can make a meeting more interactive by using polls and questions. In meetings with complicated subjects, a visual recorder may be helpful to develop an overview picture capturing the essence of the discussion. Visual recordings are also currently more often done digitally on smart-boards or tablets, which allow elements to be amended and the picture can be easily shared in the future. An example of a digital graphic recording was made at the kick-off event of the International Forum for MSP.

An interactive tool which can be used during a workshop itself is the MSP Challenge Board game or the MSP Challenge 2050 digital game, both developed by the NHTV in Breda. This simulation game is mainly relevant for the early phases of the planning process to introduce the concept and complexities of MSP. Both tools provide new ways to stimulate discussion and show visual elements on a map. An example of its application is the use of the MSP Challenge Board Game as part of the Belgian North Sea visioning process

Digital communication tools, other than informative websites, can enable sharing of draft plan content and exchange of information and opinions with stakeholders. Many MSP authorities, such as Germany, the Netherlands and Norway share the draft plans or information on current sea uses in a digital map format. These maps are not only interesting for sector specialists, but with an easy to understand legend, they can also be used by other countries to understand details of the current plans. A digital map allows the user to zoom into an area of interest to identify site specific information, or decide which layers to display to focus on select uses. Digital maps can also be used to gather input directly from stakeholders. For example, in the Danish project Havfriluftsliv, maritime tourists (e.g. sailors, divers, surfers, etc) are invited to share information on their spatial use to develop a user-based map of marine recreation hotspots, along with physical conditions and facilities in areas of interest.

Other examples of digital communication tools include visualization tools, such as the Dutch Offshore Wind Farm viewer, which allows users to virtually experience the visual and acoustic impact of different alternatives of offshore wind farms at different locations along the Dutch coast. Another innovative tool is the Baltspace findings tool which allows users to navigate between different short movies on specific themes and click through to find more detailed information about the findings of the project. Story maps can also be used to share content on a particular topic; for example, the SIMCelt project developed a story map for stakeholders to understand the application of the ecosystem services in MSP. The advantage of this format is the compatibility with smartphones and tablets, making it more future-proof and usable for different generations. Several free and easy to use tools are available for spatial story telling, such as ArcGIS Storymaps.

Transnational coordination of MSP is challenging due to a variety of factors, including differences in planning cultures and languages, as well as diverse goals and understandings of MSP. Thus, communication tools for international audiences should be mindful of these challenges, and where possible, be developed in multiple languages or a common language (e.g. English).

To understand planning processes in multiple countries, an overview of the process in the form of a timeline can be very useful. This can help neighbouring countries understand how the MSP process is run somewhere else. This has been done in the context of the NorthSEE project, first using large format paper drawings that were then transferred to a digital format. It resulted in a better understanding of the key terms and concepts used in the different national planning processes.

Wallpaper work on timeline of North Sea MSP processes

Another example is from the Plan4Blue project, which developed a visual comparison of two countries’ MSP processes in the same style:

(Images from

It is recommended that when MSP authorities are developing a timeline, they should first consult with neighbouring countries and potentially develop a common set of symbology, colors and phases.

Transnational coordination of data and information sharing is also relevant in the development of databases. Examples of this are the centralized EMODnet data portals and the decentralized HELCOM map and data service. The portals provide the opportunity to develop custom made digital maps. Other tools are in development, for example the Infoquarium, which is a stakeholder information tool of the NorthSEE project.

Scientific data and findings provide key evidence for MSP. Many MSP authorities actively involved scientists in their processes to ensure the latest findings and information are considered. For example, in Germany, an official Scientific Advisory Board provides feedback at various points in the process. In the Netherlands, the annual North Sea Days event is held to facilitate discussions between different Dutch research institutes (NIOZ, MR, Deltaris, TNO) and governmental agencies.

Complementary to these in person forums, researchers seek to make their findings as usable and practical as possible for integration in a planning process. In doing this, they need to use a jargon-free language and keep messages short and to the point. Also, it needs to be clear for the planners what the relevance of the research for the planning process is. For example, researchers of the Belgium research institute VLIZ develop the Compendium of the Sea every two years, which is an attractively designed bundle of reports on specific uses, showing the most recent data and scientific underpinnings.  While longer reports are intended to be comprehensive, policy briefs provide a concise format for researchers to communicate their findings at the political level. The BONUS BALTSPACE project developed several policy briefs , including infographics, to provide a short summary of project deliverables in a visually appealing format.

Scientists can also make use of digital formats to explain their findings, such as online tutorials. For example, an online tutorial on culturally significant areas was developed as part of the BALTSPACE project. Webinars can provide more detailed information and allow for exchange between the audience and presenters, such as the webinar on cumulative impact tools for MSP co-organised by the EU MSP Platform.

To target a younger audience of students or beginning planners, research projects, such as BONUS BALTSPACE and BONUS BASMATI , organise summer schools and training courses to share latest findings with a new generation of planners in an easy and attractive way. More information on upcoming trainings and summer schools is available on the EU MSP Platform Training page.