Risk management is a complex aspect of practice which can lead to an emphasis on maintaining physical safety, which impacts on the well-being of people with dementia. Education for practitioners in risk management is particularly challenging because of its conceptual nature and diverse perceptions of risk between and within professional groups. The practice development research reported here formed one part of a multisite study and contributed to developing a risk assessment and management framework for use by practitioners in partnership with people with dementia and their families. Practice development research uses learning theories in the process of the research, and in so doing its intent is to not only create new knowledge but to view the research process as also a process of learning for those involved. Twenty practitioners from varying professions participated in five Collaborative Learning Groups, each of at least 2 hours duration, which were held over a 7-month period. Data analysis highlighted contradictions in the care system and in the professional's intention to practice in a person-centred way. These were expressed through the themes of: Seeking Certainty; Making Judgements; Team Working; Managing Complexity; Gathering and Using Information. © 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.