Coordinated Management of Meaning (CMM)

Posted on March 7, 2010


Coordinated Management of Meaning (CMM) is my second favorite communication theory. It’s my favorite because it explains why conflicts emerge during dialog. It therefore underscores the need to define and delineate meanings, and to delve deep into our background stories. It kinda works like in my first love: literature.

When my Environment, Culture and Society class went to Naic, Cavite a few weeks ago, I was amazed to see CMM at work.

See, we conducted a focus group discussion (FGD) on fisherfolk to asses their climate change awareness. Part of our FGD questions centered on their disaster preparedness, capacity and resilience. Our group asked the fisherfolk how they cope with disasters, if the government helps them, and if there are systems in place in the community should disasters strike.

One fisherfolk remembered the disaster that was Typhoon Milenyo, a time when he and other fisherfolk couldn’t fish for days. He viewed this as a disaster because he had no means of earning money and had nothing to feed his family. For days, they went hungry. He thus defined disaster in socioeconomic terms–as livelihood lost.

So when he went to his “baranggay” to ask for help, particularly, rice, he had a hard time getting assistance because the local government defined disaster a different way. That is, disaster as broken structures (houses and buildings destroyed) and people injured, sick, or dead.

There was some sort of a debate between the fisherfolk and the baranggay as to what constituted a disaster, and up to the FGD, fisherfolk and government officials represented in the FGD continued to argue and hold on to their definitions of disaster. They didn’t see eye-to-eye. That’s why current policies could not answer fisherfolk’s needs.

There’s definitely a lesson to be learned here. That is, to check out how various stakeholders define something. This difference in definitions and realities may be the source of misunderstandings which make certain policies ineffective, outdated and subject to revision and renewal.