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What’s in a name called risk issue? – (frankly dear I really don’t give a damn) – part 2

Key message: be quite clear when you communicate what you really mean

Courtesy of Tenor

In a previous article I have talked about a common language and the need to make terms much clearer so when they are translated in languages other than English they do not lose their meaning or original intention. That earlier article referred to the definition of the term risk. In this article I want to address another term, that although is not defined in any standard, is creating a great deal of confusion for those of us who are working in the profession and have a reasonable grasp of the English language and work in particular in Asia. The term I refer to is “risk issue”.

When I have challenged some much respected individuals in the risk profession who have spoken in very public forums and used the term “risk issue”, they are unable to articulate the context and therefore explain its meaning or use. The most common context and use is around “well that event may in fact become a “risk issue”. That doesn’t help me much when I try to explain the term in a language other than English let alone to my fellow English speakers.

If you look at a dictionary or conduct a Wikipedia for the term “risk issue” you come up with a blank. A similar search for the term “issue” you come up with a myriad of examples of what are “issues”. For example legal (issues), (issue) of a children’s book etc. So I then went to my learned colleagues in the project management profession to get their take on the term “issue”. Surely they deal with this term on a regular basis and therefore could shed some light. Consensus was that an “issue” is something (an event) that has happened. Simple enough but again there was no definition as such that they could point me to so that at least I have an definitive source.

Pushing further I asked what their definition of a “risk” was and the response was “something that may happen in the future”. Some were more explicit and did talk about risks and opportunities as being the negative and positive.

Fair enough I would say until you join the terms together and then you get a contraction. If you would accept our project management brother’s interpretation of the two terms then when you slot them together you get a potential future event that has happened. Try to translate that into a language other than English and see what you come up with!

Interestingly a search of the ISO and its supporting Vocab 73 document reveals no definition of the term “issue” and definitely not the term “risk issue”.

Maybe it was a deliberate action of the standards committee writers to leave it out. Yet it is a term that has snuck into the profession and like many other terms the more you say it the more it is used and then in my view misused. For those of us who have to assist organisations implement both a risk methodology and glossary of terms the use of such slang is unhelpful and those who use the term should be mindful of what message they are trying to convey.

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