What Is a CATWOE Analysis?

What Is a CATWOE Analysis?
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Getting a Handle on the Problem

The major obstacle in resolving issues applying systems principles is defining the problem. In real life systems, different stakeholders approach the same issue or process differently, based on their perspective. For instance, an investor views the organizational process that transforms raw materials into a commercial product as a means to make profit; the entrepreneur views the process as a business opportunity, and the local community views the same process as a means to provide jobs. If the same production process faces losses, the investor might seek to sell off the investment, the entrepreneur might recommend layoffs to bring about process efficiency, the employees might recommend raising the selling price, and the local community might recommend hiring more marketing executives. The persistence of such perception-based differences creates difficulties in decision-making and problem solving.

Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) advocates resolving such issues by developing root definition or conceptual models for each issue. The root definition names the systems or process in a structured way, making it clear who performs what task, for what purpose.

Each stakeholder prepares a root definition based on their perception, and a dialog among the different stakeholders and facilitators allows by consensus, modification of root definition models to integrate various perspectives, or selection of one model overriding other models. This adopted model then forms the basis for driving the changes.

A CATWOE analysis is a systems thinking tool of SSM to prepare comprehensive root definition models.

Image Credit: flickr.com/Ted and Jen


CATWOE according to Peter Checkland is a simple checklist that can be used to stimulate thinking about problems and solutions.

CATWOE is the acronym for Clients, Actors, Weltanschauung, Owners, and Environment. Applying the CATWOE systems thinking tools places focus on the existing system or processes that take place within an organization and entails studying how the features of elements within the system or process interact externally and internally.

  • Clients: Clients or customers are stakeholders for whom the system exists, or people at the receiving end of whatever the system does, who benefit or suffer when the system or process changes. The first step in a CATWOE analysis is identifying such customers and understanding how the process or system affects them.
  • Actors: A CATWOE analysis requires listing out the stakeholders responsible for implementing the changes, usually employees.
  • Transformation: Transformation is the change that the system or process brings about. A CATWOE analysis requires listing the inputs and the nature of change such inputs undergo to become outputs.
  • Weltanschauung: Weltanschauung, also known as “Worldview” is the justification for the transformation of the system or process. This step entails placing the process or system under analysis in its wider context to highlight the consequences or relevance of such process to the overall system. With different stakeholders having different justifications, this step is the most important in the CATWOE analysis. The primary difference in the CATWOE analysis prepared by each stakeholder relates to Weltanschauung, and the purpose of a CATWOE analysis is to make explicit such different worldviews.
  • Owner: A CATWOE analysis requires identifying the owner, usually the entrepreneur or the investor, who has the authority to make the changes, stop the project, or decide on whether to go ahead with the change.
  • Environmental constraints: Another important element of a CATWOE analysis is the external constraints under which the system woks, and which may hamper or restrict the changes to the system. Examples include ethical limits, regulations, financial constraints, resource limitations, limitations of project scope, and others.



Root Definition Catwoe Example

CATWOE analysis lends clarity to issues that have multiple perceptions, and makes explicit what each stakeholder tries to achieve.

The CATWOE analysis gathers the perceptions of different stakeholders in a common platform and provides a holistic understanding that incorporates the different perspectives. This allows different stakeholders to test assertions, assumptions, positions, and integrity of the data and information, and ethical angle in each stakeholder analysis, and forms the basis for either effecting integration between two or more perspectives, prioritizing different perspectives based on the merits of the respective worldview, or selecting one perspective, overriding other perspectives.

The following example of changes in aircraft landing in airports to reduce noise pollution that occurs when aircrafts land bests illustrates the root definition of a CATWOE example:

  • Clients: Passengers and airline crew, who remain affected by the changes
  • Actor: Air traffic controllers and pilots, who effect the changes
  • Transformation: The aircraft touching ground from air, based on the signals emitted from the air traffic control tower
  • Owners: Airline companies and airport
  • Weltanschauug: The house owners near the airport advocating incorporation of noise reduction procedures in aircraft landing may use preventing noise pollution in the neighborhood as justification. Aircraft owners may oppose changes owing to safety considerations, airport management may have another viewpoint based on commercial considerations, airline users, or passengers may have yet another viewpoint based on their in-flight convenience and time factors.
  • Environment: The density of air traffic, weather conditions, geographical features, runway slots, and competition from other airports all influence the approach taken

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons


The CATWOE analysis finds use to solve most business problems bogged down by multiple and often contrasting interests of multiple stakeholders. By allowing for consideration of all such worldviews, it provides an ethical framework to the root definition and problem solving approach.

One important point to consider is that a CATWOE analysis only provides the means to resolve the issue of different perceptions. Actual resolution of the perception takes place through the wider Soft System Methodology (SSM).