The Importance of the Facilitatory Role in Participatory Research Practices

a sheet of music lies across piano keys

My name is Mary McBain, and I am an MSc by Research candidate in Music at the University of Edinburgh. Under the supervision of Dr Katie Overy and Dr Audrey Cameron, my research seeks to identify which aspects of music education in the UK are inaccessible to D/deaf1 and Hard of Hearing students and further theorise and facilitate more inclusive methods of teaching and learning.

This blog was written as part of the Participatory Research: Process and Practice workshop run by the Binks Hub and is a reflection of my own experiences and thoughts regarding participatory research.

As part of the course, we were encouraged to reflect on the significance of participatory research within the context of our own research. One key aspect that I found myself returning back to throughout my research was the process by which research is both performed and latterly reported.

What I mean by this, is that sometimes in less relational approaches to research that focus on data extraction: groups are interviewed or surveyed, and the results of said interviews are then diluted into graphs, tables or illustrative quotes. The individual or group in question is then positioned to be the subject of research, i.e., someone who is studied and reported on rather than someone who has equal input into the research.

Participatory research methods can avoid these sometimes othering research techniques and instead foster personal and trusting relationships between participants and researchers, which can further lead to more personal accounts being reflected in said research.

Another key aspect of the research process that I often question is the role that I, as a researcher, will play within my research. Particularly when coming from a place of privilege (as I will be when performing my research), one must always be aware of what our position as researchers is within the context of our research and question our intentions constantly.

Are we performing this research because we believe that it could aid the group in question? If our research is not welcomed by the community in question, how will we react? Are we performing this research because we feel guilty as a result of our privilege and therefore wish to ‘raise the voices’ of the group in question?

The latter question is particularly important to address, as it encompasses what is often referred to as the ‘saviour complex’, a term that directly implies that the marginalised group in question requires ‘saving’. This is problematic as not only does it promote harmful stereotypes of marginalised groups, but it also removes all control from the group and positions them as the subject, rather than an equal contributor to the research.

In my opinion, the two most important skills to develop when taking part in participatory research are the ability to listen and the ability to facilitate. By using terminology such as ‘raising voices’ and ‘fighting for’, researchers (often unintentionally) take power away from the exact groups that they are trying to empower.

Often groups being researched are capable of advocating and speaking for themselves, which is why the questioning of our research intentions is so important.

My research is intended to articulate which aspects of music education are inaccessible to members of the D/deaf and Hard of Hearing communities and how music can be made more accessible. There are already many D/deaf researchers and musicians reporting on the inaccessible aspects of music education who are also creating accessible musical platforms for D/deaf musicians to create, perform and learn music (Churchill2, Gulamani3, and Montgomery4 to name a few). I have often had to ask myself: what is my position in the context of this research and why is my research important?

It is also important to note that there are countless historical and present-day examples of hearing people occupying D/deaf spaces and talking for/over D/deaf voices as a result of saviour complexes and historical ableism (see: historical oralism and audism).

In my work with this community to date, I have become aware of the space that I am occupying as both a researcher and a child of a Deaf adult (CODA) and constantly look to members of the D/deaf community (whether it be via social media, academic sources, or real-life interactions) for guidance and information.

My work so far has revealed that while the research of hearing people can have a positive effect on certain D/deaf issues (i.e., educating other hearing people on audism), D/deaf spaces were created for D/deaf people. It is my view that these spaces should only be occupied by hearing allies who are willing to listen and facilitate change, rather than lead it. This process of reflection is an essential part of participatory research that any researcher can develop and put into practice, regardless of their research topic.

 Having said that, I am aware that I am in the very early stages of my research journey and fully expect (and hope) to come in to contact with sources and individuals that challenge these initial ideals of participatory research, as well as my own personal research in the fields of Deaf Studies and Music. 

I hope to write further blogs for The Binks Hub and in doing so continue working with members of the Hub who will challenge and guide me as a researcher.

Footnotes & references

1 It is worth noting that although the typographical nuances surrounding the usage of deaf and Deaf are a topic of much discourse within Deaf Studies and within the Deaf community, it is still common practice in some fields of academia to highlight differing experiences of deafness by using said terms. Therefore, deaf is used to describe the audiological experience of deafness (and therefore includes all experiences of deafness) and Deaf is used to describe the cultural aspects of deafness such as history, culture and language (i.e, British Sign Language) that are not universally experienced by all deaf people. For further information see: Annelies Kusters, Maartje De Meulder, and Dai O’Brien, ‘Innovations in Deaf Studies: Critically Mapping The Field’, in Innovations in Deaf Studies: The Role of Deaf Scholars (Oxford University Press, 2017), 13–15,

2 Warren N. Churchill, ‘Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Musicians: Crafting a Narrative Strategy’, Research Studies in Music Education 37, no. 1 (1 June 2015): 21–36,

3 Sannah Gulamani, ‘DEAFNESS…NO BARRIER TO MUSIC? A LITERATURE INVESTIGATION ON THE CHALLENGES DEAF MUSICIANS ARE FACED WITH IN SOCIETY.’ (BA (Honours) Music Dissertation, Wolverhampton, UK, University of Wolverhampton, 2007),

4 Ruth Montgomery, ‘AUDIOVISABILITY’, RUTH MONTGOMERY, Professional Musician, Flautist, Music Educator & Artistic Director for Audiovisability, 2017, 


The Binks Hub will work with communities to co-produce a programme of research and knowledge exchange that promotes social justice, relational research methods and human flourishing.

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