The Risk Question

The risk question established the purpose and scope – the context of the risk assessment. This step is critical since it sets the risk assessment’s direction, tone, and expectations.  From this risk question stems the risk team; the degree, extent, or rigor of the assessment; the risk assessment methodologies; the risk criteria; and levels of acceptable risk.

The risk problem needs to be clear, concise, and well understood by all stakeholders. Every successful risk assessment needs a tightly defined beginning and end, so the assessment team can set good boundaries for the assessment with internal (resources, knowledge, culture, values, etc) and external (technology, legal, regulatory, economy, perceptions of external stakeholders, etc) parameters in mind.

To ensure the risk team focuses on the correct elements, the risk question should clearly explain what is expected. For example:

  • For a risk assessment of potential emergencies/disasters, should the assessment be limited to emergencies/disasters at facility sites or include events off-site? Should it include natural, manmade, or technological emergencies/disasters, or all of them?
  • If the hazards associated with the job of repairing a porch as to be assessed, would it just cover the actual porch repair, or would it include hazards like setting up the space, bringing materials on site, and the hazards associated with use/not-use of the porch?
  • If the risk assessment covers getting a new family dog does it include just those associated with the dog, or does it include changes to the schedule or even next year’s vacation?

Setting the scope too narrow on the risk question might prevent a hazard and the resulting risk from being identified and assessed or making it too broad could prevent the risk assessment from getting to the real purpose.

Risk questions can be broken down in a tree structure to more define scopes, which can help drive effective teams.

For example, if we are doing a risk assessment on changing the family’s diet, it might look like this:

The current draft of ICH Q9 places a lot of importance on the risk question, rightfully so. As a tool it helps focus and define the risk assessment, producing better results.

Building the Risk Team

Good risk assessments are a team effort. If done right this is a key way to reduce subjectivity and it recognizes that none of us know everything.

An effective risk team:

One of the core jobs of a process owner in risk assessment is assembling this team and ensuring they have the space to do their job. They are often called the champion or sponsor for good reason.

It is important to keep in mind that membership of this team will change, gaining and losing members and bringing on people for specific subsections, depending on the scale and scope of the risk assessment.

The more complex the scope and the more involved the assessment tool, the more important it is to have a facilitator to drive the process. This allows someone to focus on the process of the risk assessment, and the reduction of subjectivity.