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Research 1

Risk register study 2: Causal links within and between risk register items

by Matthew Leitch, 13 April 2008


This is the second of a series of simple studies of real risk registers that aims to provide improved understanding of what people do when asked to work on a risk register.

The objective of this study was to examine the extent to which information about causality is captured in risk registers.

The results show that just under half of risk register items mention any causal links at all and no risk register was designed to capture, explicitly, causal links between risk register items.

It was not possible to determine what proportion of relevant causal links were captured.

Causality within and between risk register items

When we think about how the future might unfold, causality is never far from our thoughts. The usual risk register format, which is simply a list, does not encourage thinking about causal links between risk register items, but some formats do encourage thinking about causes and effects of risk "events".

The objective of this study was simply to establish the extent to which published risk registers from the research collection showed information about causality in each of three ways:

The analysis was performed by examining the layout of each risk register and analysing each "risk" description/definition for evidence of causality.


A total of 14 risk registers from the collection were analysed, providing 384 examples of risk register items, of which 358 were risks in the accepted sense, the remainder being statements of fact or headings.

None of the risk registers had anywhere specific to write about causal links between risk register items, though it was possible to describe causal links within risk descriptions/definitions and, sometimes, in other columns and some items may have mentioned items that were in fact other risk register items.

Four of the risk registers had a column in which text concerning the effects of the risk was elaborated, and one other had a column in which some potential causes were given.

Overall, 28% of the 358 risk descriptions/definitions included a causal link and only one risk register had causal links in more than half of its descriptions/definitions. The average proportion of risk descriptions/definitions with causality stated was 26%. The highest proportion of descriptions/definitions with causality was 58% and the lowest was 0%.

Where the risk register layout had a column for capturing cause or effect the proportion of risk descriptions/definitions including causal links was 14%, whereas if there was no extra column the proportion was 32%.

The proportion of risk register items having causal links either within their risk description/definition or in an additional column was 48%.

Further reading

For an introduction to this series of studies and more information about the collection of risk registers used, read "An introduction to the Risk Register Studies".

© 2008 Matthew Leitch
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Matthew Leitch - Author

About the author: Matthew Leitch is a tutor, researcher, author, and independent consultant who helps people to a better understanding and use of integral management of risk within core management activities, such as planning and design. He is also the author of the new website,, and has written two breakthrough books. Intelligent internal control and risk management is a powerful and original approach including 60 controls that most organizations should use more. A pocket guide to risk mathematics: Key concepts every auditor should know is the first to provide a strong conceptual understanding of mathematics to auditors who are not mathematicians, without the need to wade through mathematical symbols. Matthew is a Chartered Accountant with a degree in psychology whose past career includes software development, marketing, auditing, accounting, and consulting. He spent 7 years as a controls specialist with PricewaterhouseCoopers, where he pioneered new methods for designing internal control systems for large scale business and financial processes, through projects for internationally known clients. Today he is well known as an expert in uncertainty and how to deal with it, and an increasingly sought after tutor (i.e. one-to-one teacher). more

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