Embedding Risk Management at Senior Management Level in a Public-Sector Organisation Using a Facilitation Approach: An Exploratory Study

Rosemary Ryan

    Research output: Types of ThesisDoctoral Thesis


    There is now an increasing focus on the risks and costs associated with the planning and delivery of public services (Fone and Young, 2000), and this has led to calls for regulation and accountability of public bodies (Drennan et al., 2014); yet many public bodies do not have the resources or expertise to ensure that the management of risk is embedded into the everyday activities of their organisations (FERMA, 2016). Embedding risks into an organisation is a challenging task, and the focus in this study is on the use of a facilitation approach which can assist in bringing about change in organisations and helping groups achieve and exceed their objectives (Schwarz, 2017). An exploratory case study approach was chosen which saw the author working as an External Facilitator to assist a public sector organisation in the education sector (East ETB). Relevant literature from the areas of risk management, change management, and facilitation was used to create a conceptual model for organisations seeking to embed risk management. This framework envisages that successful embedding will lead to reduced need for the facilitator as ownership is transferred to the project owner (Tavella and Papadopoulos, 2015 and Wardale, 2013). The nature of a facilitation and embedding process meant that multiple sources of evidence were considered with an interpretivist philosophy being adopted. The findings collected over an eight month period in 2017-2018 support the role of facilitation to help drive the embedding of risks; firstly by empowering an Internal Facilitator through training and ongoing support and secondly, by directing the Senior Management Team to the priorities that need to be addressed and to the risks identified at operational level which require action. The embedding of risk management was evident in the priority given to risk management at monthly governance meetings and this was corroborated by audits of compliance and in an interview with an independent member of the ETB’s Audit and Risk committee. This positive outcome is reinforced by a thematic analysis of multiple interviews gathered at this ETB which suggests that the facilitation process can provide a good balance of leadership, communication and trust which can empower staff to embrace risks. However, while risks are considered to be embedded at senior management level, it will be a considerable challenge to continue this through to lower management levels in this ETB. The positive outcome in terms of embedding risks at this ETB contrasts with literature on change management initiatives which suggest high failure rates (Lueke, 2003; Oakland and Tanner, 2007). The contribution of the study is thus that a well-planned facilitation approach can deliver a positive outcome to the embedding of risks, and this has implications for public and private bodies seeking to address this complex task on an ongoing basis.
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Egan, Thomas, Supervisor
    • Burke, Richard M., Supervisor
    Publication statusUnpublished - 2019


    • Risk management, public sector


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