top of page

Communication Analysis of World Health Organization

Communication Analysis of World Health Organization
Joni Dougherty

Communication Analysis of World Health Organization

A communication plan is essential for a nonprofit organization. There are numerous ways to communicate information in modern society. With such a wide range of ways to communicate information, large organizations such as World Health Organization (hereinafter WHO) need to have such a plan in place. Due to the large nature of WHO, it is not only needed, it is essential to their survival as a non-profit organization. They must be able to communicate essential organizational information to their employees and life saving information to their audience. This paper will examine WHO’s communication plan by evaluating their purpose, length of the plan, the content of their communication plan, their goals, their measure of success, advantages of the plan and disadvantages of the plan.

WHO Purpose

While WHO was officially founded in 1948, the groundwork to establish the organization began long before then. A series of largely ineffective conferences was held annually during the 1800s to address the unsanitary conditions that led to an epidemic of various diseases (Howard-Jones, 1974). Eventually the League of Nations absorbed multiple health organizations and through this, WHO was established (McCarthy, 2002).

After its foundation in 1948, WHO’s primary purpose was established. WHO “does not only focus on diseases globally” (About US, n.d.) they also focus on “health leadership for physical, mental and social well-being” as well as promoting overall health (About US, n.d.). With offices in, one hundred and fifty countries and headquarters in Geneva, there are over seven thousand people assisting the purpose. (About US, n.d.)

To successfully implement the most impactful communication plan possible, WHO makes health information available in numerous languages through its publications and websites. This ensures “access is equitable and effective for reaching many people in a language they can understand.” (Multilingualism and WHO, n.d.)

Length of WHO Communication Plan

The guiding document used by WHO for their communication plan is “WHO strategic communication framework for effective communication”. The plan length is two years and updated biannually. Per the Communication plan by The World Health Organization (Background, n.d.):

Communication is a necessary component of any effort to achieve positive health outcomes. World Health Organization must provide accurate health information in a way that encourages audiences to act and follow advice and guidance to protect safety and health.

WHO Communication Plan Content

WHO’s communication plan includes six basic principles; accessible, actionable, credible and trusted, relevant, timely, and understandable. The accessibility principle refers to the audience in which WHO’s communications plan is trying to make the information available. This includes not only the use of mass media but the use of community organizations, the internet, interpersonal communications, and ensuring disabled people also have access to the information (World Health Organization, 2017, p. 4-8).

  • The actionable principle refers to a step and/or action participant’s need to undertake or actions they need to stop participating in. The plan looks at determining what is appropriate to send out, finding a trusted way to get that message out, and understanding social norms that would either help or hinder the action (World Health Organization, 2017, p. 9-16).

  • The credible and trusted principle pertains to the reputation of WHO. As a result, WHO must be extra vigilante in ensuring their reputation stays remains pristine by being transparent, fact checking, admitting mistakes and understanding uncertainty (World Health Organization, 2017, p. 17-23).

  • The relevance principle is the need for WHO to have their audience accept the message because it directly relates to them and the people they care about. WHO achieves this by listening to their audience, tailoring messages specifically for certain groups, and knowing how to motivate their audience (World Health Organization, 2017, p. 24-29).

  • The timely principle refers to getting information to the audience in time to properly make accurate health decisions based on current standards (World Health Organization, 2017, p. 30-34).

  • The understandable principle refers to WHO needs to break down a technical field such a medical and health related science and make it understandable for professional and laymen alike (World Health Organization, 2017, p. 35-39).

In addition to the definition of WHO’s six principles, the communications plan lists a detailed evaluation process to ensure their communication plan remains effective and updated. It calls for an evaluation of everything in communications; from individual messages to full-fledged campaigns. WHO looks to see if the message was effective, reached the intended audience, and what worked well and/or needed improvement. The communications plan ends with a breakdown of the various types of communication that WHO uses. It encompasses everything from news media, to internet/website, and face to face training for health campaigns.

WHO Goals

Every non-profit organization should have a goal or aim for what their organization should achieve and to aspire. According to the World Health Organization “WHO’s goal to build a better, healthier future for people all over the world...WHO needs all employees to understand and use communications effectively to achieve programmatic goals” (World Health Organization, 2017, p.1). While the strategies, mediums, and demographics for the communication of events, items, or articles may vary, the binding factor is they have a shared goal. The shared goal allows for the supply of information and counsel to key actors, enabling them to act towards safeguarding the health of communities and countries at large (World Health Organization, 2017). To effectively communicate a message to employees within the same organization, stakeholders, and the community a goal must be present. The World Health Organization (2017) states the following regarding their goal:

“It is important to recognize that WHO communication must be timely, understandable, accessible, relevant, actionable, and credible to support efforts to achieve health impact. These are the goals of complex campaigns and interventions which can involve raising awareness, increasing knowledge, influencing attitudes, and building confidence in WHO recommended changes” (p. 45).

WHO Measure of Success

One of the first steps to success is to evaluate what plan or strategies are already in place. WHO includes seven evaluation steps: to identify an item or event to improve, identify a strategy for improvement, create indicators to measure, perform a standard assessment, to redefine indicators, implement new strategies, measure progress (World Health Organization, 2017). Once an evaluation of a product, activity, or plan takes place; a non-profit like WHO continues to scale the growth and endeavors to increase their likelihood of success. Overall, WHO defines their measures of success as “Communication efforts should be measured on how well they contribute to health impact, as communications can alter levels of knowledge, influence attitudes, and increase knowledge” (World Health Organization, 2017, p.45). To attain their goal for safeguarding a local community or nation’s health, WHO must incorporate a communication plan with the undertaking of planning procedures.

Advantages of WHO Communications Plan

WHO presents their communications plan in an organized and easy to use guidelines. The plan is broken down into six key sections regarding communication within the organization. The six sections are as follows: accessible, actionable, credible and trusted, relevant, timely, and understandable (World Health Organization, 2017). Each section details how the organization’s communication takes place. It also acts as a resource for those who represent the organization.

Another positive aspect of WHO’s communication plan is that it is written so anyone within the organization can easily understand and reference it. From high-level officials and medical professionals to entry-level employees, all can utilize this guide so proper communication as a representative of WHO can take place. The guide lists specific examples of types of communication, such as emergency communications, health campaigns, and multilingual communications. The guide serves a reference on how to address and present information regarding the various types of communication (World Health Organization, 2017). By listing examples, employees and representatives can easily reference the guide ensure their form of communication is properly representing the organization.

Disadvantages of WHO Communications Plan

One of the disadvantages to having such a detailed communication is that it does not allow flexibility for new ideas. Over time, new people join the organization and new ideas will undoubtedly appear. Modern day organizations must be open to new ideas, so growth can occur and remain in sync with the world around them. Ensuring room for growth will prevent stagnancy, which various organizations and collectives have experienced in the past. When an organization fails to keep up with current trends, especially regarding how people communicate, the outcome tends to impact the organization negatively.

Other Ideas for WHO Communication Plan

The WHO communications plan is thoroughly thought out and detailed. Therefore, there is nothing that would need to be done differently. The plan encompasses every aspect of a proper communications strategy. According to Pasquier and Villeneuve a communication strategy from lay out a general framework, identify a target audience, craft and distribute a message, and detail a process for evaluation (2018). The general framework laid out makes it clear the direction the plan will be headed; that it recognizes the need to get information out and that the framework can be used to for all WHO communications. The audience is clearly defined as health decision makers such as individuals, health-care providers, and policy-makers. The plan then details how WHO will craft their message and the means used to distribute the message. Finally, it divulges a in depth and regimented evaluation process that looks at the effectiveness of organization communication.

In conclusion, the communications strategy process is designed to create consistency between an organization’s objectives and measures (Pasquier, et. al., 2018, p. 172). WHO’s communication plan exemplifies such a standard. With a world-wide reach, the organization must remain consistent in their objectives and goals, and how they are measured. It is imperative for a biannual update of their communication plan to remain successful in its implementation. The examination of WHO’s communication plan allows for a thorough evaluation of important criteria to form a communication model indicative of modern society. Constant reevaluation is necessary to remain in sync as forms of communication evolve.


About Us. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Howard-Jones, N. (1974). The scientific background of the International Sanitary Conferences.

McCarthy, M. (2002). A brief history of the World Health Organization. The Lancet. 360 (9340).

1111–12. Retrieved from doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(02)11244-x. PMID 12387972.

Multilingualism and WHO. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Pasquier, M., & Villeneuve, J. (2018). Marketing management and communications in the public sector. London: Routledge.

World Health Organization. (2017). WHO strategic communications framework for effective

Communications. Retrieved from

bottom of page