In this article we examine a risk management tool that was used in a pilot programme of applied health research in the south-west of England funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). During a wider internal evaluation of the NIHR Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care for the South West Peninsula, we became interested in how risk was being defined and managed in the programme. Our search of the empirical literature showed that little attention had been given to risk governance within large-scale organisational change programmes in the health field. Through analysis of official documents and interviews with senior managers, we examined the nature and the value of the risk tool that was used by the programme managers. This highlighted that the programme was believed to be a ‘relatively risky’ initiative that required active management. The senior managers developed a risk tool for this purpose, which was regularly used throughout the pilot. It was perceived to have value in three main ways – providing assurance to members of the collaboration, responsiveness to the wider context and acceptability as part of routine programme implementation. Our analysis also highlighted intentional risk-taking within a complex partnership programme that sought to facilitate the translation of evidence into everyday practice. We discuss the implications of our insights for the further development of risk tools and the potential value of ‘edgework’ as a theoretical framework to inform further research of risk management in complex programmes.