Music for Social Impact

Music for social impact: practitioners’ contexts, work and beliefs

Project Information

Principal investigator: Professor John Sloboda OBE, FBA (Guildhall School of Music and Drama)

Co-investigators: Professor Heidi Westerlund (Sibelius Academy, University of Arts Helsinki); Professor Geoff Baker (Royal Holloway, University of London); Dr An De Bisschop (University College Ghent); Dr Gloria Patricia Zapata Restrepo (Fundación Universitaria Juan N Corpas, Bogota)

Post-doctoral researchers: Dr Jo Gibson (Guildhall School of Music and Drama); Dr Sari Karttunen (CERADA, University of Arts Helsinki); Dr Anemone Van Zijl (University College Ghent); Julian Castro (Fundación Universitaria Juan N Corpas, Bogota)

Honorary research associates: Dr Juan Sebastian Rojas (Universidad de los Andes, Colombia), Dr Alessandro Mazzola (University of Liège)

Project dates: January 2020 – December 2022

Project context

There is a growing body of participatory music-making activities being offered to groups around the world defined by their social needs or deprivation, work which focuses on marginalised or excluded groups. These Socially Impactful Music Making (SIMM) Activities assist people to generate artistically valued musical outputs, while also helping them to achieve defined social goals such as inclusion, empowerment, community building, activism. As SIMM activities generally employ professional musicians as facilitator-trainers, the outcomes therefore reflect what these practitioners do in their sessions, the skills, beliefs and motivations they bring to their work, and the conditions and constraints under which they operate.

Little is formally known about these practitioners, however. Existing research is dominated by case studies of individual projects, or clusters of projects inspired by a single model. SIMM is a field in which grandiose claims are made for the social benefits of musical engagement, and where critical, including self-critical, practitioner perspectives are put in second place. Declining public resource for the arts adds to the pressure to "tell the best stories" rather than critically reflect on practice. As a result, understanding of the complexities of such work is frequently constrained and opportunities to identify problems and propose solutions are limited. To understand the value of SIMM activities and their potential, we must interrogate who is involved, and why.

Project aims

This project will provide an integrative cross-cultural analysis of the field as a whole from the perspective of the practitioners who deliver the work, undertaking a systematic in-depth analysis of SIMM practitioners, and how their backgrounds, training, and beliefs affect the way they carry out their work and assess and improve its effectiveness. Through in-depth interviews and case studies of organisations or projects across four countries (Belgium, Finland, the UK, Columbia), this project will uncover the characteristics of the SIMM practitioner.

Country selection reflects locations with relevant practice to investigate, with different cultural and political contexts for SIMM, offering insights into local versus global factors.

Further details

Our international survey has now closed. Thank you for your interest in our study and your willingness to get involved. The Music for Social Impact project is moving towards its next phase.

A report of the first scoping phase of the project is available to download:

Music for Social Impact an overview of context.pdf


We hope you will continue to follow our work. You can sign up to our newsletter by sending a message to our project coordinator:, who will also be available for any general enquiries about the project.

This project is supported by funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The Arts and Humanities investigate the values and beliefs which underpin both who we are as individuals and how we undertake our responsibilities to our society and to humanity globally. For further information on the AHRC, please visit their website. Co-funding has also been supplied by the International Platform for Social Impact of Making Music. For further information on the SIMM platform, please visit their website.



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