Indicators and Evaluation of Marine Spatial Plans

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Despite the effort it requires, designing a plan is only an early step in creating change. Establishing monitoring and evaluation plans is essential to any successful plan. The process of designing the right indicators, allocating funding, staff, and time, and identifying who should conduct the evaluation are all vital to understanding the impact of the planning effort.

Indicators enable leaders, decision makers, and stakeholders to see that the plan is working and helps monitor progress toward specific objectives. Indicators allow management teams to assess how a system—natural, cultural, economic—is functioning, by looking at small components. Careful consideration in selecting indicators is required due to their influence on the planning process.

This week, we suggest two reports on monitoring and evaluation; the first from the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment, is a best-practices document for creating indicators, available here. This report shares lessons learned from dozens of resource managers tasked with writing indicators for their management plans.

The second, from UNESCO, examines the larger picture of measuring success in marine planning efforts. This report is available here


By reading the first report: "Tapping the Indicators Knowledge-base: Lessons learned by developers of environmental indicators" I learned that defining indicators require a considerable multidisciplinary work effort and time. It is important to highlight that this process require a large budget. Most efforts seem to have costing between one hundred to two hundred thousand dollars (not including considerable donated time and resources), "although several cost considerably more" as the author mentioned.

Is also important to mention the high quantity of indicators that merge first as "candidate" indicators usually between 100 and 800 indicators, and the most common method of delegating the work of indicator development was to create sub-committees based on indicator categories. 

According with the report, "nearly all of the surveyed developers reported that they had encountered substantial gaps in the data available to support ideal, or even necessary, indicators". As a former citizen of the third world I didn't expect that substantial data gaps appears in United States. I would say that local authorities should be more active on supporting ecological researches in their territories in a continuous way. But... seems that research is expensive too: "Groups that have developed monitoring programs to fill data gaps, such as the CBP and SOLEC, still frequently find that their budgets do not allow them to create data sets for all indicators of interest." So, preparing a realistic budget is a critical matter for MSP's indicators definition and monitoring.

Other lesson learned pointed to would be ideal for indicators to be equally useful and meaningful at the state or regional and local levels and be sure to prepare clear and useful report summaries. Reading this document, gave me a much better view of what to expect when facing the definition of MSP's indicators. 

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