Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (RCMG)

Imperial War Museum North (IWMN)

The project

Imperial War Museum North, located in Trafford close to Manchester, UK, opened in 2002 and was established to bring the Imperial War Museum’s rich collections to a wider audience. Since opening, IWMN has received 3.2 million visitors and won over 30 awards. It is particularly known for its iconic building designed by Studio Daniel Libeskind, described by its architect as a globe, shattered by war into an earth, air, and water shard. The building is designed to unsettle, disorientate and confuse, and creates a visitor experience that is very different to the traditional museum. The Museum sets out to provide a focus for debate and understanding of conflict, using personal testimonies to convey experiences and utilising digital technology to convey content and meaning. The result is a dramatic, and fragmented, museum experience that is highly emotive, experential and cinematic.

Developing IWM North was commissioned to fully understand how IWMN can make what is an intentionally uncomfortable experience of difficult and demanding content into a meaningful, engaging, fulfilling, active and on-going experience for visitors. The project was one of a number of research projects commissioned by the Museum as part of a process of exploring the future re-development of the Museum.

Aims and Objectives

The project was focused on a research "puzzle" or question: accepting the givens of Imperial War Museum North (the building, its location and its content), how might the site, building, content and the Museum's interpretive strategies most effectively enable meaningful, engaging, active and ongoing visitor experiences?

In order to address these aims, the research team worked through the following process:

  • Review existing research and documentation relating to visitors to IWMN and their perceptions of and responses to the Museum
  • Produce a series of working papers drawing together other relevant research which may be of value to the Museum
  • Explore the findings to date and working papers with a wider research team at IWMN;to identify possible alternative approaches to interpretation and form a set of core principles and framework within which future decision making can take place
  • Publish a report summarising the findings of the research and its significance for future planning at the Museum

Following a model of research used in previous RCMG projects (including with Historic Royal Palaces) a multi-disciplinary, cross-sectoral research team was drawn together to include academic researchers, an architect and museum designer, and a small number of senior colleagues from the Museum. The team worked through a staged process, which include reviewing existing documentation and visitor research generated by IWMN, developing three working papers of relevant academic research, site visits and workshops to explore the findings, possibilities and implications for IWMN in greater detail.

The project team was Jocelyn Dodd, Suzanne McLeod, Tom Duncan, and David Hopes.


The project ran from February – April 2014.

Research findings

Details of the process and the findings available in the research report, Developing IWM North (PDF, 3,255KB).

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