Case Study: How National Museums Northern Ireland used training as a catalyst for organisational change


National Museums Northern Ireland has created a significant culture shift in the organisation, alongside increasing visitor satisfaction thanks to its commitment to training. Visitors who classify themselves as very satisfied with their experience of the organisation have risen from 82% to 92% during the life of the extensive vocational qualification training programme.

National Museums Northern Ireland
Date 2016
Region County Down
Size 415 employees
Sector Culture, Arts and Leisure


extremely satisfied visitors

works of art in the NMNI collection

sites that merged to create NMNI


staff who gained a qualification

Training drives culture change

In 1998 three geographically spread sites with diverse cultures and traditions merged to create National Museums Northern Ireland – a multi-site organisation with a shared mission and vision. The merger brought about a period of substantial change, culminating with the redevelopment of the Ulster Museum (2006 – 2009). During this time of redevelopment the organisation chose to develop their training department and expand their training programmes. The aim of which was to create an engagement culture, focused on staff and their key customers – the public.

At this time National Museums Northern Ireland created a Vocational Qualification (VQ) programme and brought it in house with a selection of employees undertaking Assessor and Verifier qualifications. In a sector which faced and continues to face real economic challenges, the organisation was able to reduce the proportion of the training budget spent on costs related to VQs from 26% to 4% – allowing funds to be shared to address other complimentary training and development needs. As a result, nearly a quarter of staff have completed a qualification and have become more engaged by expanding their knowledge and skillset whilst at work. 

Fiona Byrne, commenced in 2009 as a Visitor Guide in the Ulster Museum and is now a cross-site Curatorial Assistant, having completed Cultural Heritage VQs at Levels 2 and 5, ‘The VQ I completed in Visitor Services (Level II Museums, Galleries & Heritage) made me better as a Visitor Guide. The VQ made me realise that I did more than I thought in terms of customer service for our visitors including visitor enjoyment and safety while they are at the museum. I was fortunate to further my professional development through another VQ in collections’ skills (Level 5 Diploma in Cultural Heritage). This offered me a great perspective of working within the curatorial sector and learning ‘on the job’ developing collections’ skills. I appreciate the development opportunities National Museums Northern Ireland has provided me with as I continue to further my professional training.’


Empowering culture of learning

Staff members continue to improve the training programme and the museum’s offering. This culture of learning and development is brought about through collaborative discussions and opportunities to provide feedback and recommendations. Feedback has led the organisation to create a dedicated learning area (Staff Training Room) as well as site based ‘hot desk’ areas so that staff without allocated desk space are able to access online materials. Other initiatives the VQ Programme has developed over time include visits to other museum sites, networking, training/development opportunities and facilitated workshops on customer service, health & safety, team-building, events, store visits, conservation and collections.


‘We have created an upward performance spiral and reduced our training costs in the process. It’s a win-win situation for us. Our staff have gained in confidence and motivation and we have enriched our offering to visitors, increasing the customer service experience.’

Louise Smyth, Training and Development Advisor

Sharing best practice with the British Museum

National Museums Northern Ireland is an ambassador for vocational qualifications. It recently partnered with the British Museum to host a Learning Museums Placement. The placement holder completed a Level 3 Diploma in Cultural Heritage during their time with the host organisation. The organisation has also provided advisory services to Northern Ireland Museums Council and British Museum on best practice content development, assessment and training delivery.


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