MSP Challenge

MSP Challenge – ‘serious’ games for marine planners of all ages

The SIMCelt initiative is intended to consider how marine planning can be effected across borders but one of its outputs has taken international collaboration to whole new levels.  Marine Scotland has worked with a team of game developers at the University of Breda in The Netherlands, on innovative ways of engaging with stakeholders.  The results include cutting edge computer visioning technology as well as tactile, ‘hands-on’ kit developed under the banner of the MSP Challenge initiative ( Both enable the complexities of maritime spatial planning to be explained and experienced in an immersive, enjoyable manner.



The Clyde Marine Region

Stakeholders around the Clyde Marine Region on the west coast of Scotland, and elsewhere, have had marine planning brought to life by the two games. The Clyde Marine Region is one of 11 similar Regions set up by the Scottish Government to facilitate sub-national marine planning in the context of the overarching Scottish National Marine Plan. The Clyde Marine Planning Partnership has been directed to produce a Regional Marine Plan for the area by March 2020, with stakeholder engagement and public participation considered to be key elements of the process ( During 2017 and early 2018, a series of sessions tested the idea that playing games enables participants to understand a new language, which effectively communicates a way through complicated situations in an engaging and enjoyable manner.  Results have been promising and offer considerable scope for continuing the process as marine planning itself develops at the subnational, national and international levels.


The MSP Challenge board game

On a table-top board a fictional sea area is shared by three ‘local authorities’, all subject to the policies within an overarching National Marine Plan.  Each of the local authorities has different ideas for how ‘Blue Growth’ should be implemented in their area but all are dependent on support from the other municipalities in securing their economic, environmental and social goals.  Participants adopt roles as representatives of key local interests and sectors and negotiate with each other, the local Marine Planner and a Nature Conservation Advisor on possible opportunities and options for economic development and marine protection. The presumption is that multiple uses can co-exist in the same or adjacent areas unless particular issues such as safety require dedicated spatial planning.  Various scenarios can be played, from fitting offshore windfarms into an already crowded marine environment to setting up new cruise routes to take advantage of tourism opportunities in peripheral coastal communities.


The MSP Challenge digital game – ‘The Firth of Colours’

If the board game represented what could be done with a few sheets of MDF board, some plastic tiles, threads and anchor pins, the digital game was at the other end of the scale. Designed to be played by those with more of an established understanding of marine planning, it was developed by the NHTV team to be a bespoke mechanism for testing the results of decision making by members of the Clyde Marine Planning Partnership.


It used their geographic region as the physical base for the game and also utilised data sets held by National Marine Planning Interactive, the Scottish Government’s marine planning GIS tool, to populate layers relating to the spatial distribution of marine related activities, habitats and species.  Participants operating as representatives of up to five local planning authorities have the opportunity to create Marine Plans for their area, which are implemented over time.  By projecting into the future, players can see the effects that their decisions have on environmental indicators such as the health and distribution of biomass and disturbance to benthos.  If Doctor Who was a marine planner, this would be the tool he would use!