Interview from the 2015 CMM Learning Exchange

The 2015 Coordinated Management of Meaning (CMM) Learning Exchange, also known as the FUGIC Forum, took place in Munich, Germany, from September 17-20. Hosts of the Learning Exchange were the CMM Institute and the Institute for Global Integral Competence. This interview was conducted by AC4’s Meredith Smith and Venera Kusari.

What motivated you to choose the CMM approach for your research?

2015-07-30 19.09.13Aline Mugisho: First of all, I have only just learned of CMM from a workshop I took from Beth Fisher-Yoshida at the International Association on Conflict Management (IACM) Conference I attended in the U.S. in June. I have been using the concepts ever since as it was right at the time when I was developing the theoretical chapter of my dissertation. I had been thinking that I didn’t know what I would do for my qualitative work before this.

Given the complexity of the issue I am focused on (Women’s Social Protection in Democratic Republic of Congo) and the way I am going to interview people who are already being interviewed by NGOs, I had been and continue to ask myself questions about my work. I am asking; how do I find neutrality in the way I speak with those I am working with (the women) and how will they look at me different from an NGO. Also, in speaking with them, how do I allow them to relate to me. These were very crucial questions and that I didn’t know how to go about addressing.

Because of CMM, I now have a way to include this as part of the conversation with myself and can incorporate it in my work. In coming to these workshops, the first objective I had was to be assured, that is, get to a place of comfort in which I have understanding CMM appropriately. I had ideas about how I can introduce it into my work but felt unsure whether I was going about it in the right way. Now, this opportunity has gotten me excited because I have been able to interact with experts and show what I think and want to do with my work. I have received high levels of work and feedback.

ann ritterAnn Ritter: It is an organic approach to inquiry. Barnett Pearce (an architect and founder of CMM) looked at what was going on around him during his community work in Cupertino, California and come up with a framework to illustrate and explain it.

[For more information on the Cupertino project click here]

The first year I went to the Learning Exchange I was in the midst of my praxis (teaching yoga to help English as a Second Language students overcome speaking anxiety). I remember talking to Kim Pearce between workshops, and she told me to look at the Hierarchy Model (one of the CMM tools) as a means of more deeply understanding my data. I looked at the Hierarchy model, and realized that it gave me a way to explain exactly what I was seeing and what I was not. It was foundational for my project at that time.

My project grew out of observing a Vietnamese student whose accent and mannerisms became very pronounced when he was doing presentations. I realized additional patterns for other students as well; many would stop in the middle of a speech because they were nervous. I asked them what would happen and they shared an experience of realizing their nervousness and then believing if they did not stop, the next thing coming out of their mouthes would be in their first language- they would lose their English. I became fascinated by this! I remember thinking the Hierarchy Model helped it all fall into place.

By the time I got to the end of the semester with the praxis, both of the students in my study who had said that they were nervous speaking in public were sharing explanations of why this was the case: first, because English is not their first language, but then also one of them said that it’s not just the language, it’s also that he was the first person in his family to become an academic. Another said that she felt pressure to be fluent, because she was among so many other students from her home country, and she would compare her skills to theirs and become anxious. The Hierarchy Model helped bring these issues of class and culture dynamic to the surface in a way that made so much sense.

The models developed by Barnett are very powerful teaching tools that I have benefitted from personally and seen my students benefit from them as well.


Please share any stories or tidbits that you have experienced thus far?

KelbiopicKelly Tenzen: I think that the connection with people from across the globe has been wonderful. I would not have had access to this had I not been awarded this opportunity. From that, the connections that, I think, will continue are invaluable, both professionally in doing the work of CMM and also personally in being able to connect to people with different experience, which I think is part of cosmopolitan community anyway. What I am taking away is the importance of dialogue, and first treating people as human beings versus what you bring to the table. Start with being human and then start a conversation.

I had background of CMM before coming here as I used it in my dissertation. Now, through meeting everyone and doing the workshops, I have a renewed sense of how powerful it can be. I always say, CMM is a lifestyle. I think we all have been living it here, which then is something hard to translate into the practical outcomes. I think the key principles I will take away is hard right now but I think they will come with reflection after the conference. It’s a process, and it will happen over time.

April Bang photoApril Bang: The Learning Exchange was meaningful for me on many different levels. I found the diversity among the participants, in terms of the experiences they bring and the variety of approaches they use in practice and scholarship, one of the most striking things. Also, the way this Learning Exchange or forum was organized fostered a different kind of learning experience than a typical conference. In addition to the variety of presentations and workshops I attended, I had the chance to sit down and build relationships over lunch and between workshops with new and experienced practitioners of CMM and in the communications field more generally. It offered the experience of community in that way. As a student and practitioner of leadership development, I have been noticing and reflecting on the value of being in a diverse interdisciplinary group setting with other leadership development practitioners involved.

Additionally, I have discovered a lot of things about communications itself, seeing it not only as a skill but also as a discipline and a way to understand and explain human behavior. I have a growing interest in how communications can be used as a community-building tool. This parallels my studies in social psychology and education, specifically around the exploration of conditions and ways of engagement that foster human connection and empathy. It seems like a common goal is shared among the diverse ways in which this is studied and pursued, and yet, I am also exploring the question of distinction — what distinguishes CMM from other theories and approaches that advocate for the same restorative outcomes?

One thing I am leaving with is a deep appreciation for feeling a part of this community. Restorative is a word I would use to describe my experience. Kim Pearce [of CMM Institute] mentioned in her presentation and in conversations how she wanted CMM to be a “way of being.” I felt the community we encountered in Munich reflected this desire in the way in which people expressed their support and appreciation for one another’s work, approach, and way of engagement no matter how different these may have been from their own.

Another rewarding outcome was the formation and development of a “co-mentoring” relationship with another fellow. We were assigned to be “co-mentors” during a pre-conference World Café workshop and decided to remain as co-mentors throughout the conference and thereafter (we still keep in touch regularly to exchange ideas and provide support in our respective and shared experiences).

I imagine next year’s learning exchange will be entirely different depending on who hosts it, where it takes place, and who the participants are. I have been in conversation with one of my faculty advisors, the reference for my AC4 application, about this experience as I think the learning and outcomes of this experience will continue to develop and contribute to my studies and work at Teachers College and beyond.

Aline: I have been able to network with people who could give me honest, direct comments on my work, and I have gotten some comments that are very instructive. So, I am very satisfied from these achievements and how far I have come with this.


Tell us about the experience of using CMM.

Aline: I have been talking with the other fellows here, and I think we all agree in that we are creating something and we are not sure what it is. I am very much thinking that out of my use with this tool, something new will emerge. Like a qualitative methodology, CMM has potential to allow us to grow with it as we use it. For my work, I am hoping that after I collect my data and look at the systems that are created within my work, I can propose something new in terms of my use of CMM, whether it is a missing link, a shortage or a gap that was found within the work I do, and this will be a window for introducing something new. I think of it as a process or as a way of life; it has its own developmental process and it is very much growing. It is coming from all of us who employ it or who use it or who leave it.

Ann: It is my learning community, and it is a very welcoming community.. It is extremely open. The way that people who have embraced CMM behave is the way that I behave, so I connect. I found my people! They are connected globally. The openness to share is genuine and I feel that I have colleagues all over the world.

April: I have not officially used CMM in my practice yet, but look forward to continuing my “learning exchange” now here in the United States.  My co-mentor and I have been discussing ways in which this could be useful for managing classroom dynamics and looking to co-design a faculty development workshop or course.  I would also like to see how CMM, both as a tool and as a “way of being,” could be integrated into my study of group dynamics and systems change and applied in my teaching of leadership moving forward.


For further resources on CMM, here are some articles and links:

CMM INSTITUTE Homepage  and here for a list of recent publications.

Click here for fellow bios.

cmm crew

Photo of the 2015 Fellows at the CMM Learning Exchange, along with board members of the CMM Institute.


Authors and Interviewers: Venera Kusari and Meredith Smith

Contact AC4 Research Coordinator, Meredith Smith, with additional inquiries:

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