Programme Criticality

Programme Criticality – A quick explanation for UN Field Presences


1. What is the Programme Criticality Framework?
The Programme Criticality Framework is a mandatory part of the UN Security Management System, initially approved by the Chief Executive Board in October 2011, used to determine the criticality of all activities carried out by UN personnel. The current, revised version was issued in 2013. In January 2016, the Secretary-General reaffirmed Programme Criticality as a system-wide policy that is mandatory in settings where the present (residual) security risk levels high and above high. The Framework comes with an Excel-based tool to guide the process.

2. Why is this important for UN field presences
The framework is used to establish maximum acceptable risk for UN personnel working on different activities, with a view to ensuring that the UN can ‘stay and deliver’ even in high-risk environments. It is the responsibility of the Designated Official to ensure that UN personnel are not exceeding acceptable risk levels, with reference to the programme criticality of different activities. It is critical that Programme Criticality Assessments are carried out in accordance with the methodology laid out in the PC Framework document. As Programme Criticality is balanced against present (residual) security risks derived from the Security Risk Management (SRM) process, a poorly done Programme Criticality exercise can hamper the delivery of UN activities or, conversely, lead to an unnecessary exposure of staff to security risk.

3. Who is accountable for doing a Programme Criticality Assessment and for using its results?
In accordance with the PC Framework, accountability for the conduct and quality of Programme Criticality Assessments, and implementation of the results should lie with the Resident Coordinator (RC), or with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG)/Head of Mission (HOM) where a UN field mission is in place and where the SRSG/HOM has a mandate to coordinate UN activities in country. The Designated Official (DO) 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 Assessment into consideration. Equally, all Heads of UN entities operating in country (resident and non-resident) should ensure that their respective entities participate in Programme Criticality Assessments and use the results in the determination of acceptable risk.

4. Does each agency do its own programme criticality determination?
No. There is one UN Security Risk Management system which balances risk and criticality of programme delivery. A determination of Programme Criticality using the Framework must be conducted in collaboration with all members of the UN security system (i.e. members of the SMT). The Framework was specifically designed to promote a coherent and collaborative approach to determining programme criticality, and to ensure full ownership of the results by all UN entities in country.

5. Who leads a Programme Criticality Assessment and how does it work?
The Programme Criticality process should, in most cases, be led by the Resident Coordinator, and coordinated by his/her office or an appointed focal point. The first step is to jointly determine UN priorities in the area (derived from existing planning frameworks such as the SRP, UNDAF and ISF documents) and timeframe covered by the Programme Criticality exercise. Following this, each activity identified by UN personnel is rated according to its contribution to the UN priorities. Finally, each activity is rated for its likelihood of implementation. The Excel-based tool will then show the maximum acceptable risk for each activity.

To proceed with a PC exercise, the following conditions need to be met:
□ Baseline knowledge – to ensure country ownership and productive participation by the full UN system, baseline knowledge of the UN SMS in general and Programme Criticality in particular has to be ensured among senior management and all staff who are involved in the exercise. This must include discussions to facilitate a common understanding of PC1 activities. A good way to ensure this is through briefings by the PC Coordination Team via VTC (see below point on support from the PCCT). □ Geographic scope of PC exercises is agreed – This could be the same as the geographic scope of the SRA, but does not have to be.
□ Strategic priorities are known – usually this can be done quickly using UNDAF, SRP and ISF documents. However, if these have been overtaken by events (or do not exist), then new strategic priorities have to be agreed by the UN system in the country (all entities that fall under the UN SMS, including peacekeeping missions and political presences). This has to be signed off by the full UN system for input into the PC exercise, and the exercise itself is not the venue to determine UN strategic priorities.
□ Activities of UN entities are available – the on-going and planned activities of the UN have to be known. It is not necessary that all planned activities are known at the time of the assessment, as the PC document can be updated regularly, but most of the activities should be available.
□ Designated participants – UN entities should nominate senior programme staff who have a full overview and understanding of their entity’s activities that are being assessed in the PC workshop. UN entities should also involve staff with programme planning, results-based management (RBM) and/or monitoring & evaluation (M&E) experience in the process. RCO, DSS and (mission) planners should also be attending the workshop throughout, in order to ensure consistent understanding and subsequent application of the PC results in security decision-making.
It is important that the names of participants and coordinators of the exercise are known well in advance and that there are no changes in participants during the preparation, as a common baseline knowledge becomes hard to establish with a high turnover of participants. It is important that the full UN system is involved from the beginning, including UN missions.
□ Security Risk Assessments – Ascertain status of Security Risk Assessments (SRAs) and statements of present (residual) risk. Though the PC exercises are undertaken independently of the SRAs, it is useful to ensure that updated SRAs are in place. This is the responsibility of the SMT.



6. Does each agency rate its own activities? Won’t all agencies simply claim their activities correspond to the highest level of criticality?
No. The Programme Criticality Framework was designed to provide a collaborative structure building on group work and peer review, ensuring an open and documented process. This transparency provides an incentive to keep the process realistic, and ensures that the results are credible.

7. Does this mean activities that are not part of UN priorities can never proceed in high threat environments?
No. If the programme criticality of an activity is lower than the prevailing security risk for that activity, the security risk has to be lowered. This can be done either by changing the design of a programme, or by adapting security measures. If, for example, a polio programme has low criticality and the risk is medium, that risk has to be brought down by making staff safer from the threats they are facing. This can be done in many ways; the most drastic measure being to use remote programming modalities. It is very important that the UN system works closely with DSS to ensure that all risk control measures taken are reflected in the SRA.

8. What if we cannot agree on the Programme Criticality rating of certain activities?
The results of a Programme Criticality Assessment need to be validated by the UNCT and endorsed by the UN leadership in country. In the event of an impasse and/or lack of consensus among a UN country presence on Programme Criticality levels that cannot be resolved at country level, the UN country leadership or any Head of Agency can appeal to the ASG-level Programme Criticality Steering Group (PCSG) to mediate and to determine PC levels for the specific situation in question.

9. Where can UN country presences get support, and what support can be provided?
Support to UN teams in country is available from the Programme Criticality Secretariat (PC Sec) and the Programme Criticality Coordination Team (PCCT). The PC Sec and PCCT will support countries to ensure that the Framework and UN risk management policies are applied correctly, including by offering briefings and Q&A sessions and by providing learning and guidance material prior to a Programme Criticality Assessment. The PC Sec and PCCT can also mobilize teams of trained facilitators to support PC assessment workshops in-country. The PCCT and PC Sec are also available to provide support and advice in the implementation of PC results, and in facilitating contact with the ASG-level PC Steering Group.

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