CMM as a community of practice: Organic growth

Medellin has been marked by at least three waves of urban violence since the late 70s, and affected communities have organized in each of these waves to safeguard life and respond peacefully to the violence. As communities organize, negotiation tools emerge, setting in motion new conversations that in turn transform the language that communities use to talk about and make sense of the violence and their peaceful responses. When community leaders speak about the ways they have peacefully responded to violence, they also speak of the ways in which they transferred these approaches and tools to the next generation. When they speak about la resistencia, or the resistance, the linguistic representation of this process emerges.

The language of peacebuilding—a way of speaking about peace and social transformation— that has emerged in Medellin, has intrigued us. In our study of the peacebuilding in Medellin we have introduced and continue to use CMM as one of our central methods of investigation in the field with these community leaders. In this brief article we offer an account of how community leaders are applying the Coordinated Management of Meaning (CMM) to the language, collaborative mechanisms, and methodologies of social transformation.

We have three fundamental goals in our Medellin project. One, is to collectively deconstruct the contribution of community leaders to the social transformation (we understand peacebuilding as social transformation) of their territories. Two, is to deepen the sense of self-awareness among community leaders and their own sense of empowerment. Third, is to share CMM with community leaders so that they can apply it in their own work. Every workshop, interview, focus group, or train-the-trainer activity we conduct is participatory. Through attentive listening and active participation, the data collected is directly from these participants. Our use of CMM is reflexive, in that the data we collected together is intended to be in coordination with the transformation of these communities. We’ve been conducting CMM workshops with different community leaders in Medellin since 2015, and we’ve seen how these tools are being utilized.

Part of la resistencia has to do with setting in motion processes of social and historical reconciliation. This is especially evident today due to the peace agreements between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) that has raised the impetus for reconciliation among Colombians. While community leaders have crafted successful communication tools to negotiate peace in times of conflict, we have been told that bringing communities together to tell their stories and to talk about reconciliation is challenging. Finding a common language and a method to safely speak about reconciliation is both difficult and necessary. Community leaders have told us that one of the ways they have been able to engage in these difficult conversations is by using CMM tools and that these have now become integrated into their own artistic methodologies.

Community leaders have used CMM in a variety of ways. One community leader facilitated conversations between community members and graffiti artists to design visual representations of reconciliation in certain communities. Another has implemented CMM tools in her work on monitoring and evaluation processes. And a few weeks ago, we were told by another hip hop artist and community leader colleague, that his collective was planning to start a project with a partner organization focused on building visual representations of reconciliation around Colombia. Members of both organizations have practical knowledge of CMM, and one of the central elements in their project is the application of CMM to engage community members in the making of murals on reconciliation.

Our colleague told us he feels CMM gives them a common method to facilitate difficult and important conversations. In fact, to quote him directly, “CMM has given us a common language to talk about and strengthen our work.” In addition to the common language that has emerged, CMM is being integrated into peacebuilding methodologies that community leaders and collectives use in their work. In other words, there is a saturation point of groups learning to use CMM on the ground; they are now, independently of us, choosing to use it as part of their methodologies. In addition, CMM has become common ground, a common language, that allows them to design collaborative projects and work with each other.

Intuitively, we wanted to set the conditions where a community of practice could emerge among community leaders, and we are pleased to see this is taking place. As Wenger et al (2002) suggest “the first skill of community development is to be able to see communities of practice” (p. 24, emphasis added). Based on conversations with our colleagues, and having seen the effects of our CMM workshops, we want to suggest that there is a community of practice in the making in Medellin, which seeks to transform the violent dynamics of the city. Our desire is to continue to cultivate this community, and thus we’ve started to add structure to this development.

Central to cultivating communities of practice is to identify what is the domain, or area of work, which creates “common ground and a sense of identity” (Wenger et al, 2002, p. 27); the practice, or method of work (ideas, tools, language), that make the “shared knowledge and resources …proceed efficiently in dealing with its domain” (Wenger et al, 2002, p. 29); and the community, which is the “social fabric of learning” (Wenger et al, 2002, p. 28). Because our work is about peacebuilding, our domain is social transformation, our practice is the Coordinated Management of Meaning (CMM), and our community emerges from our participatory action research, a community of scholar-practitioner that engage in rigorous research, who work with communities in a participatory way to bring about social transformation. In the following months we plan to meet with the groups and individuals who are using CMM in Medellin to offer our understanding of this development, to co-plan the further cultivation and development of this community, and to discuss the ways in which it relates to the peacebuilding and negotiation tools they have developed in la resistencia. It is especially meaningful to us because of the way community leaders are seeing the relevance of CMM to their social transformation practices.

Beth Fisher-Yoshida
Joan Camilo Lopez

Wenger, E., McDermott, R. & Snyder, W. M. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

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