Sharon Roots says that planning for the future is the major task addressed in ALARM's business plan for 2006

The primary focus of ALARM's 2006 business plan is to provide for the increasing needs of its members and the wider risk management community, while continuing to promote and develop professionalism and best practice in risk management.

While there is clearly a business need for the organisation to consider these issues to ensure its own viability, it is also committed to setting down the cornerstones of a continuing professional development programme that both mirrors the increasing expectations of public sector risk management practitioners, and pushes at the frontiers of this fast-developing profession.

The plan aspires to ensure that risk management continues to be a respected and increasingly important profession in the public sector, long after the current demands become history.

In considering the challenges, ALARM has looked to its recent growth in membership and the significant penetration of specific sectors to determine how it best plans for the future. Having seen a significant growth in membership that coincided with drivers such as the governance agenda and the Government's comprehensive performance assessment (CPA) programme, it now has a very diverse membership representing many different sectors and disciplines. It also has increasingly diverse demands, due to differing levels of maturity in delivering enterprise risk management.

The initial surge in growth was seen as a significant indicator of the growing prominence of risk management, but presented considerable resourcing demands in the development and delivery of seminars, conferences and guidance material. The association has responded by setting up sector-specific groups for the police and fire services.

These groups are drawn from existing ALARM members and stakeholders, with a remit to develop member needs specific to those sectors. This allows for bespoke topics, and has led to additional members in each sector, as they harness the enthusiasm of individuals at a similar level of risk management maturity, share best practice and create a network in which to explore the development of risk management. ALARM intends to introduce similar groups for housing, education and the voluntary sector next year.

It is also responding to statistics that indicate much of its 1800 membership has morphed into becoming risk practitioners from a series of other professions, including accountancy, insurance, health and safety management, planning and audit. While many members have no formal risk management qualification, they have a significant catalogue of experience in both risk management and the strategic management of those functions. The challenge is to find a method to demonstrate those skills, and meet the ongoing need to keep abreast of a very dynamic discipline.

Risk management is unique in the pace of change faced by its practitioners.

Changes in legislation will mean that organisations must respond appropriately.

The range of topics a risk practitioner must be cognisant of and understand in terms of relevance and impact is significant, dynamic and demanding.

ALARM's response is the launch of Registered Risk Practitioner (RRP), a continuous professional development process (CPD).

The association's 2006 business plan recognises that, in launching this process, it must develop a meaningful programme of CPD opportunities to meet the real development needs of its members. It will develop the programme in partnership with stakeholders and providers to the public sector risk management community.

The programme is open to any risk practitioner and is not exclusive to ALARM members or the public sector. It is hoped that in the near future, the development of such initiatives will lead to transferable skills for risk practitioners.

What of the next generation of would be practitioners? While significant opportunities exist for those wishing to undertake a degree or equivalent qualification, RRP recognises that many practitioners will start at the bottom of a career ladder and work up to senior positions through experience and an increasing series of relevant qualifications. ALARM collaborated with the Institute of Risk Management (IRM) in the launch of its certificate qualification and continues to support the development of its public sector unit.

Populating its own website and producing guidance documents has previously been an internal responsibility. In recognising that this is not the most effective method, ALARM has entered into a contract with a leading academic research facility, using the resources of Glasgow Caledonian University's Centre for Risk and Governance. About to launch a document discussing alternative risk financing for the public sector, it has already commissioned its second guidance document on corporate manslaughter. Future topics will reflect members' input throughout 2006, as well as consultation processes with the wider risk community.

The 2006 business plan gives significant credence to the ongoing programme of reviewing business processes that support the organisation, and also focuses on an internal communication strategy, and engagement with members and partners. We believe that the plan will place the association at the forefront of providing not only for the needs of the current generation of risk practitioners, but also for the development of the practitioners of the future.

- Sharon Roots is chairman of ALARM - The National Forum for Risk Management in the Public Sector,