AMP Toolbox

Step 3 : Make policy robust

This step is used to assemble the policy measures drafted in Step 2 into a policy which is robust against future expected and unexpected conditions. This step is crucial to identify key factors that affect policy performance, and how these factors might evolve in the future, for example adapting to new evidence, new framework conditions and unexpected evolvement of the socio-economic context as well as of the ecosystem itself. It is also valuable to develop indicators which can then trigger policy adjustments when targeted objectives are not being achieved.

As this approach implies the necessity for policies to adapt to change as it arises, frequent iterations between Steps 1, 2 and 3, may be necessary. This step is also directly linked to Step 4 and 5 as it will affected by and affect implementation and also prepares policy evaluation and adjustments.

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Why is this step necessary?

Marine natural systems are extremely dynamic and complex; they cannot be completely understood in their present state, nor can all potential future reactions and developments be predicted. The same holds true for the social and economic part of the marine ecosystem, where variations of the pressures and impacts depend on the evolvement of different patterns of human activity and the impact of climate change.This step is necessary to ensure the policy is suitably adaptive to be robust to such change.

“Policy-cycle for management often illustrate adaptive management with a regular or cyclical diagram that describes a feedback loop beginning with problem formulation and flowing through decision-making, implementation, evaluation and feedback into problem formulation. Though, to be truly adaptive, the policy-making process needs to include mechanisms for policy revisions that are connected to irregular processes in natural and/or socio-economic systems and their interconnections, or the emergence of new knowledge about these.”

Who should be engaged?

This step should be led by the technical policy-making team in charge of policy design. Dialogues with the stakeholders identified in Step 1 and 2, and where appropriate new stakeholders, will help to define the operating environment of the policy project, and in turn will influence decision making and create opportunities to learn from past experience.

How should this step be carried out?

Ensuring an adaptive policy is robust requires the identification of the main elements which might hinder the achievement of the policy goals and the definition of ways to deal with future uncertainties.

In this step foresight analysis, aimed at assessing different policy options against a variety of possible future developments is essential. In depth elaboration of the policy, including organisational aspects and a monitoring plan which also caters for necessary policy adjustments is also central. For this purpose, there must be institutional capacity and commitment to undertake and sustain an adaptive programme. This condition includes institutional stability in favour of long-term measurements and of the evaluation of outcomes. Continued stakeholder engagement is a key step in this process.

There are two key conditions that must be considered as basic requirements for successful adaptive policies.
- There must be a mandate to take action in the face of uncertainty. That is, the problem must be important enough to require action of one sort or another as potential future changes in framework conditions or new evidence indicate that policy outcomes will change in a negative way.
- There must be institutional capacity and commitment to undertake and sustain an adaptive programme. This condition includes institutional stability in favour of long-term measurements and of the evaluation of outcomes; this should allow early investment in an adaptive approach to pay off in long-term management.

Together, these two conditions imply that policy makers must be motivated and patient, that is, they must care about improving management over extended time frames. The first key activity regards (the development of) practical conditions warranting the use of adaptive policy.

MSFD requires that “Member States shall ensure that measures are cost-effective and shall carry out impact assessments, including cost-benefit analyses, prior to the introduction of any new measure”. A critical part of ensuring the policy is robust is undertaking a cost analysis. How to perform cost efficiency analysis (CEA) of individual measures and cost benefit analysis (CBA) of a programme of measure is explained by following the link in the key activity below "Prioritise/assess new measures". This activity has already figured as a key activity in Step 2, illustrating the iterative character of Steps 2 and 3.

Key activities (not a step-by-step process):

Information on activities

What should be the outcome?

The outcome of this step is an amended policy plan, which, in relation to the product of Step 2, is more robust in withstanding expected and unexpected future challenges. Thus, the policy is ready for implementation in Step 4, and at the same time, the ground for Step 5 is prepared.
Generally, Step 3 is concluded by a report preparing the policy submission to the elected authorities ("cabinet").

At the end of Step 3, the following elements should be in place:
  • Stakeholders have been identified and involved, they are committed to adaptively managing the policy process for its duration.
  • Objectives have been identified, are clear, measurable and agreed-upon to guide decision making and evaluate management effectiveness over time.
  • A set of potential measures has been characterised and selected for policy making.
  • Technical feasibility of the selected measures has been checked.
  • Integrated and foresight analysis for adaptive policy making has been performed. Models that characterise different hypotheses on how the system works have been selected and used to develop scenarios identifying key factors affecting policy performances.
  • Organisational and social aspects of the drafted policies have been considered.
  • CEA and CBA have been performed at the relevant levels.
  • Automatic policy adjustments have been setup to enable the policy to cope with variability in socio-economic and ecologic conditions, when applicable. Signposts and trigger points have been defined.
  • Monitoring plans have been designed and possibly implemented to track environmental status and potential unintended impacts and to evaluate policy effectiveness over time.

Further reading

Several problems or issues can be addressed with the AMP Toolbox, in this case marine litter in the Mediterranean and Black Sea is used as an example.

Information on examples

The policy measures drafted in Step 2 must be assembled into a policy which is robust against future expected and unexpected conditions. For this purpose it is necessary to: (i) identify key factors that affect policy performance as well as the scenarios to study the way these factors might evolve in the future; and, (ii) develop indicators to help trigger important policy adjustments when needed.

To identify the key factors that affect policy performance (“Forward looking analysis: assess policy success”) is necessary to develop a deliberative process with multiple stakeholders and experts. Potential future evolution of the key factors can be projected using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. Scenarios are a coherent package of key factors. Coherence is achieved by understanding the higher-level drivers (such as Tourism, maritime transport, fisheries and coastal development and urbanization) for these key factors and how these drivers influence the various key factors.

Moreover, “Designing and implementing a monitoring plan” is a key component in adaptive policies, providing information to evaluate the status of the ecosystems and triggering policy adjustments in case targets are not achieved; as well as, facilitating information, evaluation and learning after decisions are made. The European Commission proposes four indicators regarding marine litter: (i) Trends in the amount of litter washed ashore and/or deposited on coastlines, including analysis of its composition, spatial distribution and, where possible, source; (ii) Trends in the amount of litter in the water column (including floating at the surface) and deposited on the seafloor, including analysis of its composition, spatial distribution and, where possible, source; (iii) Trends in the amount, distribution and, where possible, composition of micro-particles (in particular micro-plastics); and, (iv) Trends in the amount and composition of litter ingested by marine animals (e.g. stomach analysis).

In addition, operational targets should be defined in relation to the nature of the management action required to achieve GES (e.g. amount of marine debris removed); or to assess progress towards full implementation of a specific measure (e.g. percentage of fishers using alternative/modified fishing gear by fishing fleet or area). For more details see flag example.