As most pregnancy-related deaths and morbidities are clustered around the time of childbirth, quality of care during this period is critical to the survival of pregnant women and their babies. Despite the wide acceptance of partograph as the central tool to optimize labour outcomes for over 40 years, its use has not successfully improved outcomes in many settings for several reasons. There are also increasing questions about the validity and applicability of its central feature - "the alert line" - to all women regardless of their labour characteristics. Apart from the known deficiencies in labour care, attempts to improve quality of care in low resource settings have also failed to address and integrate women's birth experience into quality improvement processes. It was against this background that the World Health Organization (WHO) embarked on the Better Outcomes in Labour Difficulty (BOLD) project to improve the quality of intrapartum care in low- and middle-income countries. The main goal of the BOLD project is to reduce intrapartum-related stillbirths, maternal and newborn mortalities and morbidities by addressing the critical barriers to the process of good quality intrapartum care and enhancing the connection between health systems and communities. The project seeks to achieve this goal by (1) developing an evidence-based, easy to use, labour monitoring-to-action decision-support tool (currently termed Simplified, Effective, Labour Monitoring-to-Action - SELMA); and (2) by developing innovative service prototypes/tools, co-designed with users of health services (women, their families and communities) and health providers, to promote access to respectful, dignified and emotionally supportive care for pregnant women and their companions at the time of birth ("Passport to Safer Birth"). This two-pronged approach is expected to positively impact on important domains of quality of care relating to both provision and experience of care. In this paper, we briefly describe the rationale for innovative thinking in relation to improving quality of care around the time of childbirth and introduce WHO current plans to improve care through research, design and implementation of innovative tools and services in the post-2015 era.Please see related articles ' http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12978-015-0029-4 ' and ' http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12978-015-0028-5 '.