Skip to main content
European Commission logo

Enabling conditions for effective marine spatial planning

Marine Policy, Volume 143


As marine spatial planning (MSP) continues to gain global prominence as an approach to ocean governance, planners and other stakeholders are eager to evaluate its social and ecological outcomes and to better understand whether plans are achieving their intended results in an equitable and cost-efficient manner. While a plan’s outcomes for marine environments and coastal communities may be of particular interest, these results cannot be separated from planning processes. The field has yet to fully develop the guidance necessary for this critical consideration of how features of an MSP process and external factors interact with plan performance and outcomes. To fill this gap we used a literature review and expert discussions to identify 19 enabling or disabling conditions of MSP within four major categories: Plan Attributes, Legal Context, Plan Development and Social Context, and Integration. We propose semi-quantitative scoring and the development of narratives to operationalize the framework as part of a comprehensive methodology for MSP outcome evaluation. Applying the framework can add depth to quantitative MSP evaluation, shed light on questions of outcome attribution, and inform plan adaptation. Evaluating MSP outcomes in the explicit context of the enabling or disabling conditions identified here can stimulate discussion around what works in MSP and provide a path forward for assessing the benefits and costs of MSP worldwide. By identifying conditions instrumental to effective MSP, and alternatively, conditions hindering a plan, the framework can be used to guide plan adaptation and promote learning across the wider MSP community.

Application in MSP:
Type of Issue:
Type of practice:
Stage of MSP cycle:
Cross-border / trans-national aspect:
Key words:

Questions this practice may help answer:

  • What factors are most likely to affect the effectiveness of a plan?
  • How can the legal context enhance MSP effectiveness?
  • What are the links between the MSP process and its final outcomes?

Implementation Context:

While Maritime Spatial Planning has been promoted worldwide, the assessment of the plan's social and environmental effects is still in its early stages and the MSP process and external features on planning outcomes has not been fully considered yet.

Aspects / Objectives:

This research aims to synthesise existing research and expert opinion from interdisciplinary and international scholars into a framework for understanding, making decisions around, and acting upon enabling and disabling conditions specific to MSP.


A critical interpretive review of the academic literature and prominent MSP guidance documents was conducted based on major databases (Web of Science, Science Direct, and SpringerLink) and Google Scholar. Key ideas were identified from this review and a list of 20 enabling or disabling conditions for MSP was compiled.

The work was led by members of the interdisciplinary, international authorship team to ensure validation and refinement. A ranking survey was drafted and discussed at several meetings.

Main Outputs / Results:

This article provides a framework for the identification of factors that contribute to MSP effectiveness and incorporates enabling or disabling conditions of MSP into more robust outcome evaluations. This framework can be used to guide planning development.


The methodology and framework provided in this study can be used to assess MSP implementation and achievements.

Responsible Entity:

National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), USA

Costs / Funding Source:

This work was supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (Grant #4506) with additional support from the National Socio- Environmental Synthesis Centre (SESYNC) under funding received from the National Science Foundation DBI-1639145.

Contact person:

R. Zuercher: ress: