On 3 June 2020, MSPglobal organized a consultation event to discuss how to improve exchange of knowledge and practices on Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) at international level for public authorities, stakeholders and civil society. Twenty-four former students of the Erasmus Mundus Master Course on Maritime Spatial Planning currently working in MSP or related issues in 22 different countries expressed their opinions and shared their experiences in order to contribute to the development of recommendations on this topic.
When asked about the main challenge for knowledge exchange and transfer in MSP, there was a quite wide consensus regarding the difficulty of reaching a diverse audience with different levels of knowledge and no common language to facilitate understanding. Furthermore, the lack of 1) awareness about the benefits of knowledge exchange, 2) trust and 3) political will are seen as constraints too.
Regarding opportunities, many participants mentioned the potential of Ocean Literacy and good science communication. Most interestingly, the MSP process itself is considered as a learning process in which stakeholders can learn from each other’s experiences at transboundary level. Finally, online platforms and fora are seen as a very good opportunity for knowledge exchange, specifically in the current situation (COVID-19 pandemic).
In the case of public authorities in charge of MSP, the importance of informal meetings (i.e. in the framework of pilot projects) was highlighted. The students recommended to use established transboundary channels if they already exist to develop regular and continuous exchanges of information. Moreover, regional sea authorities would play an important role in establishing trust, developing common understanding of key MSP concepts and prioritizing common transboundary interests.
When talking about civil society, there was a common agreement that there should be knowledge transfer but it is important to define who, when and what for. Civil society needs to know, for instance, how it is going to be affected by MSP (i.e. the benefits) and its role to play in specific cases, keeping in mind that the information should be adapted to their level of understanding and avoid technical terms that could be counterproductive. Even so, it is important not to forget that sometimes civil society acts as a bridge between government and maritime sectors, and for that it is essential to have them on board and informed.
In relation to private maritime sectors, some difficulties exist in sharing knowledge between sectors or within the same sector at transboundary level; however, this trend is currently changing and sectors are starting to share their knowledge and integrate it to academic and local knowledge. Typically, this is the case when there is a common challenge or interest identified and working together means there is a possibility to reach mutual benefits. In this sense, the need for a trusted intermediary or representative to motivate knowledge sharing and showcase the potential win-win situation is primordial.
In any of the three cases, cultural components and geopolitical past and present are aspects surrounding MSP that need to be taken into account. Knowledge exchange in MSP needs to start going beyond planners and start targeting “users” as they are the final beneficiaries (or not) of an MSP process, and as such will be ultimately responsible for its implementation.