Friday, September 9, 2011



Vikram Karve


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.
A properly structured root definition comprises three elements [what, how, why] and is of the form: A System to do X, by (means of) Y, in order to achieve Z.
XWhat the System does
Y How it does it
ZWhy 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 – a T system in which A do W for C]
Here is a CATWOE Model of a hypothetical Higher Education System [a University or a 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.
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 realise a better Educational System in keeping with current needs and ground reality?
A few days ago, at an alumni meet of a prestigious Institute of Technology [Engineering College], I asked a few recently passed out alumni [who were working for a leading Information Technology 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 training and the rest he had to learn on the job. Maybe the educational institution needs to introspect and have a relook at its CATWOE Model and reformulate its ROOT DEFINITION and restructure its curriculum and revitalize its pedagogic methodology to seamlessly meet the challenges of current needs and times.
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About the Author
VIKRAM KARVE educated at IIT Delhi, ITBHU and The Lawrence School Lovedale, is an Electronics and Communications Engineer by profession, a Human Resource and Training Manager 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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