UN Photo Abdul Fatai Adegboye
UN Photo Abdul Fatai Adegboye


The United Nations Programme Criticality (PC) Framework is a component of the UN Security Management System (UNSMS) which is used to determine levels of acceptable security risk for programmes and mandated activities implemented by UN personnel. The Programme Criticality Framework is implemented as a mandatory policy of the Organization in environments of high or very high security risk.

The Framework provides guiding principles and a systematic, structured approach in carrying out Programme Criticality assessments, whose results are then applied through the UN Security Risk Management (SRM) process to balance programmatic and mandated priorities with security risks. Programme Criticality assessments help to facilitate cooperation between security personnel, programme managers and senior managers in ensuring that informed and legitimate decisions are taken about the safety and security of UN personnel.

The Programme Criticality Framework was initially approved by the UN Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) in October 2011. Revised versions of the Framework were approved by the High-Level Committee on Management (HLCM) in March 2013 and, most recently, in October 2016.

Available Support and Contact

UN country presences planning to undertake a Programme Criticality assessment can draw on a range of support services provided by the Programme Criticality Coordination Team (PCCT) and the Programme Criticality Secretariat. Support services include access to learning and guidance resources, remote support in the preparation of Programme Criticality assessments, and the deployment of teams of trained facilitators.

For any required support, UN country presences should contact the PCCT co-chairs and the Programme Criticality Secretariat. The updated contact details can be found on


History of Programme Criticality

Under the 2009 Guidelines for Determining Acceptable Risk, two tools were identified to assess acceptable risk: The Security Risk Assessment (SRA) which was used to determine residual risk levels, and a Programme Criticality assessment (PCA) which determines criticality levels of programmatic outputs in relation to the strategic objectives of the UN within the country.

In June 2010, the HLCM established a “Programme Criticality Working Group” (PCWG) with the goal to “define four levels of programme criticality and to develop a common framework for informing decision making within the guidelines of acceptable risk”. The PCWG was comprised of senior representatives from CEB member organisations with large field presences.

In October 2011, the HLCM and CEB approved the initial Programme Criticality Framework. Following field testing between 2011 and 2013, the HLCM approved a revised Programme Criticality Framework in March 2013 and established the Programme Criticality Steering Committee (PCSC) at Director level and a working level Programme Criticality Coordination Team (PCCT).

In 2014, an independent review of the Programme Criticality Framework found that overall, Programme Criticality has a positive influence on the United Nations’ ability to implement its activities under difficult security circumstances. It recommended that a more robust system of support and oversight of Programme Criticality assessments be devised, that Programme Criticality be fully integrated into the business processes of all UN entities, and that Programme Criticality decisions be fully embedded within the UN Security Management System (UNSMS) at country level.

In January 2016, the UN Secretary-General’s Policy Committee reaffirmed that the Programme Criticality Framework should be implemented as a mandatory policy of the Organization in areas where present security risk levels are high or above high, and that the CEB-endorsed methodology should be used. The Secretary-General further affirmed that accountability for the conduct and quality of Programme Criticality assessments should lie with the Resident Coordinator or the Special Representative of the Secretary-General/Head of Mission. The Designated Official should use the results of the Programme Criticality Assessment and endorse decisions taken at country level, taking both the Programme Criticality assessment and the Security Risk Management (SRM) process into consideration. A strengthened, system-wide oversight and support structure for Programme Criticality was established, headed by the Programme Criticality Steering Group (PCSG) which is chaired at ASG level.

In October 2016, the HLCM approved the latest revision of the Programme Criticality Framework, which incorporates the decisions by the Secretary-General’s Policy Committee on Programme Criticality and reflects advances made in UNSMS with the roll-out of the new SRM process as well as best practices from the field implementation of the Framework.

CEB Management Themes