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Guide for Cross-Border Spatial Data Analysis in Marine Spatial Planning


This guide is targeted at regional planners and spatial data officers involved in national and cross-border Maritime Spatial Planning. For regional planners, it is intended to help them understand and evaluate maps and other outputs of spatial data analysis. In addition, it seeks to assist GIS specialists in understanding Maritime Spatial Planning and designing goal-oriented, spatial data analysis workflows. 

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:

  • How is spatial data gathered for maritime spatial plan?
  • How is spatial data gathered in a cross-border setting?

Implementation Context:

As part of the Plan4Blue project, this guide was developed from the experiences and research gathered in the development of the Gulf of Finland pilot project. It aims to support the MSP process through the creation of a methodological guide for spatial analysis information gathering. It is written in English, Estonian and Finnish.

Aspects / Objectives:

The guide aims to present a step-by-step approach to utilising spatial data in MSP, with special attention given to cross-border issues. It seeks to complement existing MSP and spatial data analysis guides in a concise and practice-oriented way.


This guide was developed from literature and experiences from the MSP pilot project in the Gulf of Finland and presents a step-by-step approach in coherence with the IOC UNESCO MSP guide (Ehler & Douvere, 2009).

Main Outputs / Results:

A step-by-step guide to be used by spatial information and spatial analysis practitioners in MSP, according to the following steps:

I. Set stage for spatial data analysis in MSP (Steps 1-4)

Step 1: Identification of the plan area, spatial scale and timeframe

The first step aims at determining clear principles for setting the spatial and temporal frame for data inclusion and analysis.

Step 2: Identification of thematic content and spatial interactions to be considered in the MSP process

This step aims at ensuring that the spatial data analyses focus on meeting the objectives set in the MSP process

Step 3: Identification of necessary spatial data

This step aims at guaranteeing that the goals of the MSP process guide the inclusion of spatial data and that the best available data are found.

Further details on implementing steps 1 - 3 can be found in a separate document: Guidelines for identifying and sharing relevant spatial data in MSP. Cross-border case. Part 1.(pdf, 800 Kb)

Step 4: Evaluation of the available data

This step aims at ensuring that the best available spatial data are used and that inadequate spatial data are excluded from the analyses. In addition, this step outlines the principles for designing all data produced during the process, which should be captured in a guidance document.

II. Collect and manage spatial data (Steps 5-8)

Step 5: Collect Existing Data

In this step, the best available data identified in the previous steps is collected. Detailed metadata are collected and a metadata catalogue is established.

Step 6: Harmonise Spatial Data

In this step, the best available data collected in Step 5 are harmonised following the harmonisation principles outlined in a separate guidance document in preparation for spatial analyses, developed under Step 4.

Further details on implementing steps 4 - 6 can be found in a separate document: Guidelines for harmonising, producing and managing cross-border spatial data. Part 2. (pdf, 400 Kb)). All changes to the original data are documented in the metadata in detail.

Step 7: Produce Spatial Data

In this step, new spatial data are produced from existing data with geocoding or correlative spatial modelling. In addition, severe data gaps are filled by collecting new original spatial data, following the guidance document developed under Step 4.

Step 8: Manage Spatial Data

In this step, the input data for spatial analyses and distribution are managed to ensure easy access to it and to store the harmonised versions of the data. The metadata catalogue is updated according to the changes made in this step.

III. Analyse spatial data – examine interactions (Steps 9-11)

Step 9: Plan Spatial Analyses

This step aims at ensuring that spatial analyses are guided by the goals of MSP and specific objectives, outlined in the guidance document under Step 4. Efficiency of the process is increased by clarifying the workflows and roles of GIS specialists and other actors in MSP, as illustrated in the following diagram:

Step 10: Analyse spatial data and interactions

This step consists of the application of spatial analysis to examine interactions of human activities at sea with each other and with the environment.

Step 11: Transform spatial analysis outputs into meaningful results for MSP

This step facilitates the work of planners, authorities and stakeholders by transforming the outputs of spatial analyses into meaningful results for MSP.

IV. Visualise MSP on maps (Steps 12-14)

Step 12: Visualise spatial information

In this step, the results of the MSP process (either intermediate or final) are visualised for communicating them to planners, authorities, stakeholders and the general public. Visualisation of the MSP background information, scenarios and spatial plans on maps is much more effective in communicating the information than narratives.

Step 13: Report spatial data and analyses

In this step, the maps and spatial data products are supplied with appropriate metadata. They will allow evaluation and examination of the input data, methods and results and their limitations. In addition, they will enhance transferability of the workflows across sectoral and administrative borders and reproduction of the analyses during successive MSP rounds.

Step 14: Store and distribute MSP data

In this last step, the intermediate and final outputs of the spatial data analyses in MSP are stored and distributed to a wider public.


This guide provides a methodological framework for the analysis and gathering of spatial data for MSP with a particular focus on cross-border considerations and can be used in other sea basins.

Responsible Entity:

University of Turku

Costs / Funding Source:

EU / ERDF / Interreg Central Baltic

Contact person

Tua Nylen

University of Turku (tua[dot]nylen[at]utu[dot]fi)