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. 

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

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 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 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. This also allows for clear visual communication of results to engage with the target audience. As a result, six scenarios were developed: 1) the relaxed sea; 2) the natural sea; 3) the ritch sea; 4) the playful sea; 5) the mobile sea; 6) the sailing sea. Each scenario was elaborated to produce relatively extreme and conflicting outcomes. As such, they provide a larger and less obvious picture, and encourage the development of a policy that not only reflects present trends but also anticipates future changes in the North Sea environment.  

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.

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 various software. For example, ExtendSim, a software widely used in a number of fields, including engineering, environmental management, and public policy, allows for better understanding of how natural systems react to changing conditions, including anthropogenic impacts. Another software, InVEST, is widely used for developing scenarios to assess ecosystem service tradeoffs. Analysis of scenarios is also often conducted through interactive exercases by using SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) or PEST (political, economic, socio-cultural and technological) analysis technique. To contribute to a better communication and engagement, 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". This interactive method was applied in Eforie and Sfantu Gheorghe case studies 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. 

Matrices – matrices can be used for evaluating variables (e.g. development trends in maritime sectors or geomorphological and biological trends in marine environment) according to their degree of unpredictability, degree of impact and strength, and directivity of impact. Matrices are a good way to present information in a structured manner and discuss various options.

Microsites - the Celtic Seas Partnership Future Trends exercise used an interactive online platform to present their scenarios. This website allowed users to manually manipulate the targets, thereby creating different scenarios and encouraging the user to reflect 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. 

Apart from the 'Handbook for developing Visions in MSP',  VALMER project outputs can also serve as a valuable resource to maritime spatial planners in the for scenario making process. The VALMER project and advised its application in marine planning and governance. As part of the project, a Scenario Toolbox, an online learning module, was developed with a comprehensive 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.

There also some valuable international sources in regards to scenaio development and presentation. For example, in the Northern Mozambique Channel, as part of the East and Southern Africa/Western Indian Ocean futures project the scenarios were developed to guide the implementation of multi-stakeholder platforms that will be important for Marine Spatial Planning in coming years. Transformative Scenario Planning was used to bring concerned stakeholders from different, often competing, perspectives together around pressing sets of problems to build narratives that illustrate a range of potential futures. While most planning methodologies focus on adapting to the future, transformative scenarios seek to also shape it. This structured yet creative method, involving multiple events over several months, helps diverse actors discover what they can and must do. Apart from written naratives, these scenarions were also presented as different types of music and as videos. 


The Plan4Blue project has developed four scenarios to depict how planning choices may affect people and the marine nature in the Gulf of Finland and the Archipelago Sea. A short video animation was produced to present four alternative future scenarios: “Unlimited growth”, “Virtual reality”, “Sustainability above all!” and “Sustainability dilemma”, as well as infographics of scenarios of different sectors.


Strategic scenarios for the use of the sea

Four scenarios were developed in order to arrive at an optimal allowed sea use solution satisfactory to stakeholders and society.

A flood of space: Towards a spatial structure plan for sustainable management of the North Sea

The main aim of the GAUFRE project was the delivery and the synthesis of the scientific knowledge on the use and possible impacts of use functions. Consequently, a first proposal of possible optimal allocations of all relevant use functions in the Belgian part of the North Sea (BPNS) was formulated.

Scenarios of maritime economy for the Mediterranean

It shows an in-depth analysis of the current situation and future trends in 10 of the main maritime economic sectors, their drivers and environmental impacts.

Mapping the Aegean Sea and setting alternative scenarios for MSP

Data and maps were then used to investigate and propose alternative scenarios for MSP (using the Marxan with Zone software), designing a possible network of marine protected areas (MPAs) and a spatial arrangement of the most important maritime activities taking place in the Aegean Sea.

Quo Vadis - Exploring the future of shipping in the Baltic Sea

To develop these scenarios, multiple activities have been undertaken, such as a statistical scenario analysis and activities involving stakeholders, the elaboration of questionnaires filled in by key stakeholders and the hosting of a 2-day MSP challenge computer simulation game.

Celtic Seas Partnership future trends

The Celtic Seas Partnership carried out a study exploring future growth scenarios in the Celtic Seas and the resulting impacts on environmental, social and economic conditions with the purpose to explore the need for integrated marine management for the future environmental integrity of the Celtic Seas and the socio-economic well-being that it supports.