A high-level Working Group was formed in June 2010 following the request by HLCM at its 19th session to "develop a framework for determining programme criticality within the Guidelines for Acceptable Risk". The Working Group is led by Ms. Hilde Johnson of UNICEF, and includes representatives of the CEB member organizations with large field operations, i.e. UNDP, WFP, UNHCR, WHO, ILO, FAO, as well as UN-DSS, UN-DPKO, UN-DFS, UN-DPA and OCHA. The Director of DOCO and the Vice-Chair of HLCM also participate in the Working Group.


The Chair of the Working Group reported to the Committee on the status of their activities, underlining some key revisions made in the UN Security Management System (UNSMS) in response to the report of the Independent Panel on Safety and Security (IPSS) of UN Personnel and Premises World-wide, that were critical for improving programme delivery.

The new Security Risk Management (SRM) model places the “programme assessment” part first in the process. This approach puts programme goals in the forefront and adds extra emphasis on the fact that the SRM is meant to enable programme delivery. With “programme assessment” coming at the beginning of the SRM process and focusing on what we want to do, “programme criticality” assessment comes at the end of the SRM process and focuses on what we can do in the light of the risks we face.

A second improvement to the UNSMS is the development of the Guidelines for Acceptable Risk. The UNSMS now acknowledges that all risks cannot be totally eliminated, so the UN system must be willing to accept whatever risk remains after risk mitigation strategies are applied (the remaining risk is called “residual risk”).  The Guidelines for Acceptable Risk go one step further and describe how the UN can accept higher levels of residual risk. In this way, the risks the UN takes are “balanced” with the program importance (called “programme criticality”). Another important aspect of the Acceptable Risk model is that if organizations need to take more risk to implement a very important programme, a higher level of decision making is needed.

The objective of the Programme Criticality (PC) Working Group (WG) is therefore to develop a missing element of the Acceptable Risk model, i.e. clear definitions to support the Guidelines for Acceptable Risk as well as a clear, agreed-upon framework to discuss or decide on programme criticality.

The PC WG set a very ambitious timeline and, taking into consideration the technical nature of its review, it also  established a Sub/Technical Working Group comprised of members from UNDP, UNHCR, OCHA, DPKO, DPA, WFP, WHO, UNDSS and UNICEF  to review the draft definitions and report back to the PC WG.

At its last meeting on 17 September the PC WG discussed the findings of the Sub/Technical WG and agreed on the following:

  • Acceptable risk is based on residual risk.
  • The concept of programme criticality is one component of the Acceptable Risk model.  To this end, the “Programme Criticality framework” should be developed to fit logically into the Acceptable Risk model.
  • Understanding that the terms "Extreme", "Critical", "Essential" and "All" have been used to describe “programme criticality” levels, and that the current definitions are vague and may not match common language used within the UN and Donor community, there is a need for clarification of the terms and type of activities that could take place (which would be situation dependent as requirements vary from one area to another).
  • The concept of a “level” system based on the Acceptable Risk model is the most appropriate and it is recommended that the current terminology be replaced with a level system (level “Unacceptable” plus levels 1 to 4. Criteria for the determination of the levels are still being finalized).
  • The establishment of an “Executive” body (i.e. an “Executive Group on Programmes”) is recommended to assist rapid decision making along the same lines as the Executive Group on Security.
  • The draft concept must be “tested” as part of the process. Although the list has yet to be formalised, countries that have been identified for pilot-testing may include:


Yemen (its inclusion is pending due to a number of high level delegations travelling to the region in November/December 2010).

Pakistan (to be included no earlier that January 2011)

  • The “Pilot” testing would include those organizations/secretariat departments with operations in the above-named countries, i.e. WFP, UNHCR, OCHA, DPKO/DPA, WHO, UNDP and UNICEF.

The expected end result is a “Programme Criticality Framework” that is user friendly and logically integrated into the Acceptable Risk model. The framework should result in a process that ensures the programmes and personnel that remain in country are working on the highest priority functions and programmes in accordance with the strategic objectives of the United Nations system.


The Committee:

Thanked the Chair of the Programme Criticality Working Group for offering her kind availability to lead this critical work, and all organizations/departments that are contributing with extreme dedication to it.

Took note with appreciation of the considerable progress made by the Working Group, and looked forward to considering its conclusions at its spring 2011 session, before submission for approval by CEB.