Thursday, February 26, 2009

The CATWOE Model

The CATWOE Model



Before you take a decision or implement change or introduce a new system I am sure you consider the five “E’s”:

Efficacy (will it work at all?)

Efficiency (will it work with minimum resources?)

Effectiveness (does it contribute to the enterprise?)

Ethics or Ethicality (is it sound morally?)

Elegance (is it beautiful?)

Let’s talk a bit about the fourth “E” – Ethics.

There is an ethical dimension to every decision.

Any time a human being, or entity, intervenes in the life of another human being, or entity, directly or indirectly, an ethical situation arises.

There is a story, probably apocryphal, which illustrates this. There was a cyclonic storm and millions of fish were washed ashore and were struggling for life on the beach.

A man came to the beach and patiently began to pick up the fish, one by one, and throw them back into the sea.

An amused passerby asked him what difference it would make, to which the man pointed to the fish in his hand and said, “Ask this fish?”

Thus, we see that seemingly routine decisions, which at the organizational level do not appear to have major ethical magnitude, have large ethical significance at the individual level.

Some people believe that ethics is of little concern to business people. “Ethics is Ethics” and “Business is Business” they say.

Thus many upwardly mobile managers of today tend to rationalize when faced with an ethical dilemma and take the position that they must wear multiple ethical hats and cloak themselves with three separate conflicting codes of ethics:

One code applicable to the professional or technical aspects of their work (Professional or Technical Ethics);
Another code for their business behaviour (Business Ethics);
And a third code of ethics for their personal lives (Personal Ethics).

This leads to the development of schizophrenic ethical personality wherein the individual may strive for professional excellence and high ethical standards for one’s own self and within one’s organization, but resort to unethical practices to succeed in business at all costs.

This Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde approach is at the heart of many ethical dilemmas in managerial decision-making.

Each person, entity, group, institution or constituency that is likely to be affected by the decision is a “stakeholder” with a moral claim on the decision maker.

This stakeholder concept provides a systematic way of perceiving and resolving the various interests involved in our ethical decision making.

There is an ethical dimension to every decision.

Thus any of your decisions, which affect other persons, have ethical implications, and virtually all of your important decisions reflect your sensitivity and commitment to ethics.

In summary, as you perform your job in your workplace, you must analyse and ascertain various ethical dimensions as you deal with your superiors, peers, subordinates, customers and all other stakeholders connected with your work.

Different stakeholders have different ethical perspectives.

For example, take the case of workplace romance.

Whereas, some organizations [and stakeholders] may feel that there is nothing ethically wrong with workplace romance and many even encourage organizational romance / marriage among colleagues by giving various perks / incentives, some others may discourage or even prohibit workplace-romance. Of course, sexual harassment would be universally considered unethical.

One useful technique to resolve such ethical dilemmas is the CATWOE model adapted from Soft Systems Management.

Ethical dilemma occurs due to mismatch in ethical perspectives of various stakeholders involved in the ethical situation.

A CATWOE analysis helps the manager identify all stakeholders involved in a decision and their respective ethical perspectives.

CATWOE is an acronym to categorize various stakeholders:



To elaborate a bit:

C: The ‘customers of the system’. 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 will gain or lose from your decision?

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

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. 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)’ – i.e. those who have 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.


All decisions must take into account and reflect a concern for the interest and well being of all stakeholders.

Ethical values and principles always take precedence over non-ethical and unethical values and principles

It is ethically proper to violate an ethical principle only when it is clearly necessary to advance another true ethical principle which, according to the decision maker’s conscience, will produce the greatest balance of good in the long run


Step Action

1 Identify and classify the stakeholders in the situation using CATWOE and understand their ethical perspectives

2 Identify their dominant ethical perspectives

3 Construct an ethical conflict web, mapping different ethical perspectives [CATWOE – six nodes]

4 Identify those strands of the web where no significant conflict may be assumed to exist. These may be removed from the ethical decision making model.

5 Concentrate on those strands where conflict does exist. Use conflict resolution techniques to achieve the “overall good” for the system

Ethical decision-making involves the process by which a person evaluates and chooses among alternatives in a manner consistent with his or her core ethical values or principles. Thus when you make an ethical decision you:

(a) Perceive and eliminate unethical options
(b) Select the best from several competing ethical alternatives.

Ethical decision-making requires more than a belief in the importance of ethics. It also requires sensitivity to perceive the ethical implications of your decisions; the ability to evaluate complex, ambiguous and incomplete facts and the skill to implement ethical decision making without jeopardizing your career.

Ethical decision-making requires three things: Ethical Commitment, Ethical Consciousness and Ethical Competence.

The CATWOE model will help you in Decision Management - in improving the Ethical aspect of your managerial, professional and personal decisions.


Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.