Describing your problem formally
CATWOECATWOE is another tool that forms part of Peter Checkland’s Soft Systems Methodology, along with Rich Pictures (see Checkland 2001). In some ways it is similar to Rudyard Kipling’s ‘six honest serving men’.CATWOE is a mnemonic used to identify the people, processes and environment that contribute to a situation, issue or problem under analysis. Each of the letters is a prompt to think about a different aspect of the problem.The whole Soft Systems Methodology is useful in complex, messy situations when there are divergent views about the definition of the problem, or when the actual problem to be addressed cannot be agreed upon. For example, ‘how can we improve the NHS?’ or ‘how do you address homelessness?’.When using CATWOE, you consider a situation from six different perspectives:
CustomersWho are the people (groups or individuals) who will benefit (or potentially be harmed) from your innovations/intervention to improve the problem situation? How do the issues currently affect them?
ActorsWho is involved in the situation? More specifically, who will be involved in implementing the transformation you propose?
TransformationWhat processes or systems are affected by the issue? What is the process that will result in the customers’ needs being met? What changes will take place? At this stage don’t worry about how this transformation will be enacted, just focus upon the transformation itself.
WorldviewWhat is the big picture that would make improving the problem situation a worthwhile thing to do? What are the wider impacts of the issue?
OwnerWho owns the process or situation you are investigating? Crucially, who has the power to stop you from carrying out the transformation?
Environmental ConstraintsWhat are the constraints and limitations outside of your control that will impact the solution and its success?
“A system owned by [OWNERS], where [ACTORS] perform [TRANSFORMATION] on behalf of [CUSTOMERS] because [WORLDVIEW], but limited by [ENVIRONMENT].”
|Customers||Commuters and travellers|
|Transformation||The preparation of roasted coffee beans and hot water into a beverage|
|Worldview||Customers value the taste and benefits|
|Environment||Location and commercial pressures from competitors and suppliers|
Checkland, P.B. (2001). ‘Soft Systems Methodology’, in Rosenhead, J. and Mingers, J. (eds), Rational Analysis for a Problematic World Revisited. Wiley, Chichester
Apply CATWOE to a real problem
If you analysed a problem using the questions in I Keep Six Honest Serving Men, or by using the Cynefin framework, now have a go turning that analysis into a more formal CATWOE description, using the framework above.
- Would this help you to understand or explain your problem better?
Unleash Your Potential: Innovation and Enterprise
Our purpose is to transform access to education.
We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.
We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.