Does marine spatial planning deliver socio-ecological benefits to coastal communities and the marine environment?
There has been a sustained increase in the development and number of marine spatial plans over the past two decades. Managers and governments have embraced the approach as a way to maintain ecological integrity of marine environments while ensuring continued provisioning of economic, social and cultural benefits. However, there is limited empirical evidence that plans and associated management measures have effectively achieved stated goals. In the first phase of this project, we will work with an interdisciplinary team of experts to develop an evaluative framework, based both on site-specific objectives and global, overarching goals of marine spatial planning. We aim to design a framework to support a data-driven assessment of management progress toward social, ecological and economic objectives in the context of enabling conditions (critical factors related to planning and ongoing governance processes) and externalities (unexpected events that influence progress toward a goal). Importantly, the framework must accommodate a diversity of data types and disciplinary priorities. In the second phase of the project, we will select 3-4 case study marine spatial plans in various stages of implementation for evaluation with the framework. Using quantitative analytical methods to assess progress toward objectives paired with qualitative causal chains, we aim to shed light on the efficacy of marine spatial planning on ecological and socio-cultural fronts, and identify conditions under which positive progress toward objectives has been made. As governments and practitioners continue to develop and implement marine spatial plans, and as opportunities for adaptive management arise, an understanding of these outcomes is essential. Our framework and synthetic analysis of plan outcomes will represent a new and concrete step forward in the difficult task of evaluation, and provide information and tools for scientists and practitioners working to understand the potential of this widely-utilized form of marine governance.