Monday, October 18, 2010

ROOT DEFINITION & CATWOE MODEL - Ethics Based Soft Systems Approach

Ethics Based Soft Systems Approach

Musings on a Systems Approach to Restructuring Technical and Management Education in India


The first step in Soft Systems Methodology ( SSM ) is to formulate the Root Definition of the System you are studying, analysing or designing.

A Root Definition is a structured description of a system. It is a clear statement of activities which take place (or might take place) in the organisation being studied. 

what, how, why 

and is of the form: 

A System to do X, by (means of) Y, in order to achieve Z.

X – What the System does
Y – How it does it
Z – Why it is being done

The 'what' is the immediate aim of the system,
The 'how' is the means of achieving that aim,
The 'why' is the longer term aim of the purposeful activity.

CATWOE analysis helps in proper formulation of a Root Definition. 

CATWOE is a mnemonic which helps identify and categorize all stakeholders [people, processes, environment, entities] of the System being analysed for formulating the Root Definition.

To elaborate a bit:

C: The ‘customers of the system’ , clients or System Beneficiaries. In this context ‘customers’ means those who are on the receiving end of whatever it is that the system does. Is it clear from your definition of “C” as to who are the beneficiaries of the system?

A: The ‘actors’, meaning those who would actually carry out the activities envisaged in the notional system being defined. Actors transform inputs into outputs.

T: The ‘transformation process’. What does the system do to the inputs to convert them into the outputs?

W: Weltanschauung - The ‘world view’ that lies behind the Root Definition; the perspective from which the Root Definition if formulated. Putting the system into its wider context can highlight the consequences of the overall system. For example the system may be in place to assist in making the world environmentally safer, and the consequences of system failure could be significant pollution.

O: The ‘owner(s)’ – The person(s) who has commissioned the system and who has sufficient formal power over the system to stop it existing if they so wished (though they won’t usually want to do this).

E: The ‘environmental constraints’. These include things such as ethical limits, regulations, financial constraints, resource limitations, limits set by terms of reference, and so on.


CATWOE Analysis yields a more elaborate all encompassing Root Definition of the form:

A System owned by O to do W by A by means of T given the constraints of E in order to achieve X for C.

A briefer version of Root Definition:

a T system in which A do W for C

Here is a CATWOE Model of a hypothetical Higher Education System (a University or College):

C – Students
A – Teachers
T – School Pass Outs are transformed into Graduates [Degree Holders]
W – Graduation [a Degree] is a means of assurance to potential employers that the Graduate [Degree Holder] possesses a specified standard of proficiency and skills in the domain of qualification.
O – The University or College Governing Body or Top Management
E – The Prescribed Educational, Academic, Quality, Assessment and Accreditation Standards and Requirements.

Now this CATWOE Analysis may yield a Root Definition that this particular Higher Education Institution is a university owned system to award degrees to students (X) who successfully qualify assessment (Y) in accordance with prescribed standards in order to certify assurance (Z) to potential employers that the students possess the requisite proficiency, capabilities and skills.

A System to do X, by (means of) Y, in order to achieve Z.

XXX Engineering College (or YYY Institute of Management) is a university (or privately) owned system to award degrees to students (X) who successfully qualify assessment (Y) in accordance with prescribed standards in order to certify assurance (Z) to potential employers that the students possess the requisite proficiency, capabilities and skills.

Is this Root Definition okay or is there something amiss?

Suppose we define Potential Employers [or Industry] as CUSTOMERS [C] and include students as ACTORS [A] along with teachers – won’t we then get a more apt Root Definition and consequently realize a better Educational System in keeping with current needs and ground reality?
At a recent alumni meet of a prestigious Engineering College I asked a few recently passed out alumni [who were working for a leading IT company for just over a year] as to how much of what was taught in his four year Engineering Degree Course in his college was useful in his work. 

They said: “Less than 5% (five percent)” – which means that his employer had to invest heavily [almost 95%] in his induction training and the rest the new employee had to learn on the job.

Maybe the educational institution needs to introspect and have a re-look at its CATWOE Model and reformulate its ROOT DEFINITION and restructure its curriculum and revitalize its pedagogic methodology to meet the challenges of current needs and envisage seamless integration of fresh BE and B. Tech. Engineering Graduates into the industry. 

A Systemic approach to education incorporating increased partnership and congruence between the industry and universities is the sine qua non of optimal human resource development in science and technology.  

The disconnect between the industry and educational system must be bridged.

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2010
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.
VIKRAM KARVE educated at IIT Delhi, ITBHU, Lawrence School Lovedale, and Bishop’s School Pune, is an Electronics and Communications Engineer by profession, a Human Resource Manager and Trainer by occupation, a Teacher by vocation, a Creative Writer by inclination and a Foodie by passion. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories and creative non-fiction articles in magazines and journals for many years before the advent of blogging. His delicious foodie blogs have been compiled in a book "Appetite for a Stroll". Vikram lives in Pune with his family and pet Doberman girl Sherry, with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.
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Amir Sabahi said...

Mr. Karve Thank you for this post,It was a useful post.
Regarding the last part of the post(FOOD FOR THOUGHT), I am a graduate software engineer from India(VTU) and I am fully aware of what you are explaining here . Minimum 6 months of training is needed to make a graduate software engineers a kosher software engineers !!!
But we can not fully blame the educational system here .
It is very much before that , when students are choosing the major and step in to the world of academy
It starts from the day when:
1. Forces applied by Society and families on students to join engineering or particular major .
2. Students Interest (which partially involves point 1). It is funny to see that a student is NOT AT ALL interested in computer systems and they are doing software engineering !!!

When a software engineer says only 5% of what they have studied has come to use in their career , that means they had not have that interest back in academy years.

Vikram Waman Karve said...

@ amir sabahi -
Dear Mr Sabahi:Thanks for sharing your experience and views. You are absolutely right. Here in Pune to everyone is rushing to the IT Sector without even having a clue as to what the job entails. No one wants to work in their core qualifications and I find civil, mechanical, chemical and even metallurgical engineers make a beeline to become overnight software "engineers" and join IT firms. Also, as you said, I wonder if most studying engineering have any interest in engineering as those who cannot get into IT want to do their MBA and become investment bankers and the like.

Biswadip Goswami said...

Sir Karve, Great explanation through such a mighty example. I got a bigger task at hand but was bestowed upon by your simple and self explanatory example.
Keep rocking...

Thank you.


Vikram Waman Karve said...

@ Biswadip Goswami
Thank you for your nice words.
I am glad you found the CATWOE model useful and interesting.