Welcome to the crazy and exciting world of Model UN!
This will be a journey that will teach you about the world, let you develop life changing skills and make friends with excellent people you’d have never met otherwise. You will learn to research, speak publicly, think critically and develop leadership skills. You will travel, have fun, laugh, cry and may come out inspired and empowered to make the world a better place.
With this promise in mind, and the Model UN world seemingly so big, it might seem confusing where to start. The following article will give the basic tools to navigate these waters and land on your feel as you start this exciting journey.
“As the young leaders of tomorrow, you have the passion and energy and commitment to make a difference. What I'd like to really urge you do is to have a global vision. Go beyond your country; go beyond your national boundaries.”
What is Model United Nations?
Model United Nations (also Model UN or MUN) is an academic simulation of United Nations procedure learned through negotiation, discussion and lively debates, which is the cornerstone of UN activity.
Model UN aims to educate students about current events, international relations, diplomacy and the United Nations agenda. Along with knowledge of the world we live in, participants will develop skills including public speaking and presentation, persuasion, analysis of situations, research skills and critical thinking.
The way Model UN works is that the participants role-play as diplomats representing a nation, or NGO, in a simulated session of an organ (committee) of the United Nations. This can be the Human Rights Council, the Security Council, the General Assembly or any of the other United Nations bodies.
Participants will need to research a country, take on the role of diplomat and try to find solutions to the problems of the day. Through debate, deliberation and compromise these they will try to draft a United Nations resolution with clauses solving said issue and try to get it passed by a majority within the committee they are simulating. For example, you could be representing Canada discussing climate change or Indonesia trying to help rebuilding post conflict zones.
Where did Model UN come from?
A short history
Model UN began started as student-led Model League of Nations simulations. It is believed they were first held in the 1920’s. Model League of Nations was revolutionary in that it was the first simulation of a body that had all the members of the international community present, as opposed to the bilateral and multilateral treaties between countries that was the norm before World War I. While the League of Nations did not last, the idea that of a simulation that would represent all nations did and set the stage for future similar simulations.
After the United Nations was founded, on October 24th, 1945, the first Model United Nations was held February 1949 at St. Lawrence University. Throughout the following years many other conferences sprouted up throughout the United States. In 1987 a few American students studying at The Hague founded The European International Model UN, Europe’s first university Model United Nations conference. In the years that followed new Model UN has spread across Asia, North Africa, the Middle East and Europe with hundreds of conferences for university and high school students taking place annually.
What does a Model UN conference look like?
Model UN conferences can be found across the global and are organized by universities, high schools, non profit and for profit organizations and other types of education groups. Model United Nations is not owned by the United Nations, or any particular organizations, so anyone who is interested can create a society or organize a conference.
The conference will usually have more than one committee being simulated. Sometimes there are many committees and often at least one of them is not a United Nations committee but rather another international body such as NATO or the European Union. Sometimes historical or futuristic committees will be simulated as well.
The conference usually starts with an opening ceremony. Throughout the days of the conference there will be committee sessions, usually in the morning and afternoon with lunch and coffee breaks in between. In the evenings there are usually social programs and sometimes the hosts provide tours of the city or other related activities. At the end of the conference there will be a closing ceremony where best delegate or diplomacy awards will be given to recognize diplomatic excellent in the various committees.
How does a Model UN committee session work?
Each committee is led a director of chairperson (with the exception of crisis, legal committees). They have three roles, to facilitate discussion, to run the chairing software and give awards at the end. In some conferences, the chairs are required to give feedback to the delegates at the end of the round.
The goal of the simulation is to produce a draft resolution, which is a compilation of policies written by specific delegates, and voted upon by a majority.
- General Speakers list – With special rules where everyone can talk about anything and yield time
- Moderated caucus – A less formal discussion moderated by the chair where delegates speaking on a specific topic
- Unmoderated Caucus – Delegates move around freely and can negotiate and lobby with each other. This is also the time delegates can work on writing working papers and draft resolutions.
The committee will move between these three formats until a draft resolution is produced. Multiple drafts can be produced, sponsored by different blocks of countries, and after they are introduced they can be amended. The simulation ends when the first resolution to get a majority of votes passes. At that point it is considered that policies in the document are implemented and the issue of discussion changed in the ways lobbies by the countries whose resolution passed.
*This structure is applicable to most Model UN conferences but not all of them. Sometimes the Rules of Procedure are different and should be reviewed before each conference.
This structure is applicable to most Model UN conferences but not all of them. Sometimes the Rules of Procedure are different and should be reviewed before each conference.
Where do I find Model UN Conferences?
The internet is a great tool for finding Model UN conferences near you and a simple internet search should yield results. Friends and other members of your society can also be an excellent resource.
Once you find your conference, signing up should be easy. Usually one should simply follow the application process on the conference website. This process is usually straightforward and they usually have a contact email address if you have any questions.
Model UN conferences vary in size, structure and the committees available. When starting out, it is usually better to go for committees aimed at helping beginners and moving forward from there.
What do I need to prepare?
After you signed up to the Model UN conference you will get your country and committee assignment, as well as the topic you will be discussing. At this point you will need to research your country to come up with the identity of the character you will be paying and what kind of policy you will be pursuing.
Once you have the background guide provided by the conference you should learn about the following:
- Your country - History and interests
- The topic - Study guide and your own research
- Your committee's mandate and abilities
- Past actions and future policy recommendations
- Your allies and opponents relevant histories and interests
It is preferable to start with basic information about your country to get an idea through which lens you will be processing the rest of the information. Once you know who you are, read about the topic, following by getting an understanding of what your committee can and can’t do. You should also see which other countries are in the room, map out who you think you can work with. For an in depth guide on how to research we suggest checking out our article “How to research”.
Many conference also require position papers, or country profiles, to be sent before the conference. A position paper is where you write your country's relation to the topic along with some policies that your country would want implemented. It typically has you (1) reframe the topic in relation to your countries worldview, (2) shows your country's past relation to the topic and (3) lays out policies you would want implemented for the future.
A country profile is a page with information about your country which gives the reader an idea of whey your country has the position it does about the topic. Information about your country's position can be found in the news, the CIA World Facbook, Wikipedia, interviews with governmental officials and the government's websites, among others.
In addition to your research, you will generally need to prepare the following things:
- Opening statement
- Research File / supporting materials
- Clauses / Ideas for clauses
1) Opening statement
The opening statement, or policy statement, is the first speech that you give on a specific topic. The goal is to inform the other delegates in the room as to your position and also serves as an initial shout out to allies and opponents. A good opening statement should help frame the topic in a way that relates to your country's interest. It should give facts about the case and also put out the policies which your country is interested in forwarding. The opening speech is your first impression to the committee and remember that the first one does not need to be perfect and we improve over time. The most important part is to get up, practice and watch things improve from there!
2) Research File / printed materials
Some Model UN conferences allow the use of computers while other only allow paper materials to be used for support. In either case it is important that you have supporting materials, and facts on hand to help make your case stronger as the committee session progresses.
Just because the conference allows for the use of computers to take notes and research during the sessions does not mean we have the time to start our searches on location. When you are writing your position paper, or preparing your opening speech / policy statement, you will come across facts that you know may be useful but don’t want to put in your opening speech. A useful tip is to put them on a separate document, organize them and keep them for later use. While your opening speech is very important, you will be giving more speeches and, as the debate heats up, you may have less time to research. Having a folder with support materials, bookmarks for useful websites and a document with the extra facts will give you information to have at your disposal for future speeches and to use during lobbying time.
Paper based conferences
When computers are not allowed you need be more selective, say you cannot print everything on the internet. However, the same principles as used in a conference that allows computers apply here as well. Make sure to have your extra facts sheet printer, together with relevant information that you can get from the news, weekly news magazines (Newsweek, The Economist), the UN website, think tank policy recommendations and anything else you think might be useful. Once you have it print it out and organize it in a way that will be useful for you.
Whether computer folder or on paper, the key is to make sure what you put together it isn’t too long and is easily accessible for when you need it. Both research and organization becomes easier with practice and you get better at Model UN.
3) Opening statement
Many high school Model UN conferences require delegates to bring clauses in advance to debate them. The other conference forbid pre-written resolutions, as the goal is to write them together on location. However, even in those cases the nature of the debate can often be predicted and ideas for clauses compiled. Clauses need to be practical and actionable, with no emotional or descriptive language.
This may seem like a lot but it all falls into place quite naturally after you see it all come together. Remember that no matter how much we prepare, sometimes the best teacher is experience and we just need to jump right in!
What skills will I need?
The most important skills needed to succeed at Model UN are curiosity, a willingness to learn and ability to work hard and invest time.
Model UN will help you improve your public speaking, research skills, negotiation and critical thinking but you need to be willing to invest time and effort. The thing with these skills is that you gain them through practicing Model UN, as you cannot improve research skills without spending time researching, or public speaking within speaking in front of groups of people multiple times.
Here are some of the skills you will need to be a good Model UN delegate:
Research - Knowing what to look for and being able to identify it does not come naturally
Public speaking and Speech-writing- The process or act of presenting a speech to a live audience. A good public speech is deliberately structured with three general purposes: to inform, persuade and entertain. For this reason, having the right material is just as important as how you present and confidence in your content
Building an argument - An argument is a reason, or set of reasons, aimed at persuading others if an idea or action is right or wrong. With limited speech time, it is important to understand how arguments are structured and how to use them both on and off the floor.
Negotiation - The method by which people settle differences and find compromise. This is done by engaging on the main issues, or by tactically avoiding them. A good negotiator is able to achieve the best possible outcome for their organization, or interest, and preferably have the other side feel that got a good deal as well.
Critical thinking - Possibly the main skills that is underdeveloped in school and university is the development of analysis and evaluation tools needed to be able to make informed judgement. Model UN, through practice of the skills it builds, develops critical thinking, which can be very useful, and applicable, in all walks of life.
To Sum up - How does model UN work?
Model UN is a game that may seem simple to learn but difficult to master. They key is to improve from conference to conference and make sure to plan a second one after your first. While we tried to cover a lot in this article, there is much more to Model UN. The most important thing is to not be afraid to ask, whether about writing a position paper, how to give a speech or how to United Nations works, ask your chairs, faculty advisers, teachers or experienced delegates. They key is not to invent the wheel but be the best we can be after taking the time to learn properly and practice. Model UN gives skills which change lives but they are acquired with practice and hard work.
HelpMyMUN has many resources to help you improve your Model UN skills and are always adding more! With articles for a beginner, intermediate and veteran Model UN delegates, chairs and organizers HelpMyMUN has what you need to not only excel at Model UN but also to develop the skills that will help you be more effective when interviewing to get into university, or a job, and excelling once you get that dream position.