About WHO

Recreating the overarching framework for the work of WHO

Taskforce of the Global Policy Group

March 2014

Relatively little has changed in the organizational structure of WHO since the organization was established in 1948. With headquarters in Geneva, 6 regional offices and more than 150 country offices, the organization has continued to play a crucial role in global health despite a relative lack of clarity on the roles and functions specific to each level. As a consequence, duplication of work and lack of coordination between the levels has inevitably reduced the organization’s effectiveness and left gaps in meeting Member States’ needs.

Task force wordle.

Taskforce formed to review roles and function

Late last year, the Global Policy Group (GPG), consisting of the Director-General, Deputy Director-General and the 6 Regional Directors, created a Taskforce to review the roles and functions of each level of the organization with the aim of resolving this lack of clarity.

Despite the short time period given to the Taskforce, it successfully completed its work and developed an overarching framework for the work of the organization – mapping WHO’s 6 core functions to the 3 levels of the organization, starting from where we want to make a difference, at the country level, through the regional offices and up to headquarters.


Clarity in concept is important. But it only makes a real difference in implementation. So an immediate first step was to apply the draft framework to the proposed programme budget 2014-15. The result is that, for the first time, we have a clear description of how these functions translate into a set of deliverables specific to each level of WHO, which together contribute to the organizational-wide outputs against which WHO’s performance will be measured.

The Taskforce also highlighted the importance of the Category Networks, and proposed institutionalizing them with terms of reference and standard operating procedures. These internal networks have been set up in line with the 6 categories of work in the proposed "Programme Budget 2014-2015". Based on standard operating procedures and the code of conduct that will be developed, the Category Networks are expected to plan, coordinate and monitor the work in each of the 6 categories.

Further study comissioned

The GPG met in March this year and endorsed the Taskforce’s recommendations. The GPG went one stage further, and decided to ask the Director-General's Office to commission a study of the organizational design of WHO, with support from RD EMRO and RD WPRO.

The aim of the study is to align structures with functions, harmonize organizational structures and positions, and develop terms of reference for the Category Networks. This study is now being undertaken, and the results and options will be reviewed by the Global Policy Group. The Director-General will make the final decision by November 2013.