The North Sea Vision for 2050 process, initiated by the State Secretary for the North Sea, created a new form of interaction between stakeholders from a variety of industries and fields. The North Sea Council saw an opportunity to extend this unique dynamic in the form of an independent Think Tank North Sea in which the RBINS (Directorate Natural Environment) and VLIZ would play pioneering roles.
Think Tank North Sea is a neutral and unaffiliated body in which stakeholders from a wide range of backgrounds (science, policy, civil society, industry and society) consider subjects related to the North Sea. The work of the think tank is always based on current science and relevant to society's biggest challenges.
Think Tank North Sea is driven by three goals: extending the support on the ground for subjects relating to the North Sea; providing a seedbed for future visions for the North Sea; preparing science-based recommendations on subjects relating to the North Sea.
The operation of Think Tank North Sea is coordinated by a steering committee based on the North Sea Council's North Sea Vision 2050 (NL – FR) process (2016) and is composed of political and scientific experts who serve the public interest. The composition of the committee can be consulted in the internal regulations of Think Tank North Sea.
Each year, the steering group launches an open call for work themes relating to the North Sea, which are then assessed against a number of criteria (general interest, multisectoral, multidisciplinary, expected impact, demonstrable added value if the theme links up with ongoing processes). Themes that meet these criteria and can count on sufficient interest will evolve into working groups. They run over a period of one year and have clear rules and deliverables that are laid down in reference terms. The results of the Think Tank are presented at the end of each working year.
After the launch of the North Sea Vision for 2050, the pioneering role transfers from the State Secretary for the North Sea to the RBINS (Directorate Natural Environment) and the VLIZ, which will then advance the dynamic through the independent Think Tank North Sea.
The operational management of the Directorate Natural Environment of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences has as its core business: policy support (Biodiversity and North Sea), scientific services and scientific research. More than 60% of the organisation's staff and activities are dedicated to the marine environment. Through its MUMM science service Directorate Natural Environment also fulfils an important series of legal obligations which fall within the remit of the State Secretary for the North Sea. The interdisciplinary approach typical of the organisation's management is very closely aligned with the spirit and aims of Think Tank North Sea. The managers and their teams are therefore particularly well suited to this initiative and hope through this to contribute to science-based visions for the future of our North Sea and rise to the challenges that await them.
The Vlaams Instituut voor de Zee [Flemish Institute for the Sea] (VLIZ) is the coordination platform for marine research in Flanders. One of VLIZ's core activities is support of a sustainable and scientifically underpinned policy for the coastal area, marine areas and adjacent estuaries. The Think Tank North Sea provides a unique framework around which to form this institutional objective. The think tank's multidisciplinary and inclusive nature also provides the opportunity for wide-scale communication over the challenges facing our North Sea and so plays a part in improving the 'ocean literacy' of all involved.