In the Model UN world, as in all aspects of life right now, the future is uncertain, and this uncertainty can be quite daunting. One question MUN club presidents and head delegates may be asking themselves right now are how they will keep their club members engaged when the school year begins in the fall, even if meeting and attending conferences is impossible. One way to achieve this goal is to host virtual simulations, allowing delegates to practice their conference skills and giving the team a sense of community. Thus far, my college model UN team has hosted one such online simulation with great success. As simulations coordinator for the University of Minnesota Model UN club, I’ve created a guide to the online simulation.
At the University of Minnesota, we used Zoom for our first online simulation, and plan to continue to do so in the future. Zoom is a platform that most students will be familiar with as it’s been used by many schools for online classes.
The Moderated Caucus and Voting
Zoom has a few features that are conducive to the MUN. Using Zoom gallery view, the chair (the host of the committee) can view all of the delegates at once, just as in an in-person committee. In place of placards on the table, delegates will identify themselves by changing their display name to their position.
If the chair feels that counting votes or accepting points and motions may be a difficult task over Zoom, the software has a few alternatives to traditional vote counting and placard raising. Zoom offers a “raise hand” button that the delegates can be used to make motions. Zoom also allows the host to post polls that can be used in place of a traditional vote. Note passing between delegates also becomes incredibly easy online. Gone are the days of notes being lost amongst piles of paper scattered across the tables. Instead, in Zoom, delegates can start private chats with one another.
The Unmoderated Caucus
Perhaps the most challenging part of the online simulation is the unmoderated caucus. Unmods look very different online than in person. Since the chair is the host of the Zoom meeting, the chair can separate delegates into breakout rooms. Before the first unmod, the delegates must message the chair their blocs. Because of this, the delegates must be proactive about forming blocs during the moderated caucuses through note passing. It may also be a good idea for delegates to create group chats on platforms like GroupMe or Slack.
While breakout sessions allow delegates to discuss the issues of the committees in small groups, the breakout sessions do not allow for delegates to transition between groups in order to debate and merge working papers. The chair will be responsible for these transitions. They must be ready to switch delegates around between breakout rooms when asked to do so. One suggestion given by the chair of UMN’s first online simulation is for the chair to enter the bloc first and inform them that another delegate will be joining their breakout room. This allows the delegates to end a discussion if the information is something that they are not willing to share with this new delegate, as they might if they saw the delegate approaching their bloc during a traditional unmods.
One of the more smooth transitions between an in-person committee and a virtual one is the logistics of crisis. The crisis staff will have a separate zoom meeting, the virtual crisis room. This meeting should be hosted by one of the crisis assistants, allowing the director to move between the crisis room and the committee. The delegates send their crisis notes to one email address. At UMN, the simulations coordinator has an email for this very purpose. Creating a committee email can also work. All of the crisis staff should have access to this email.
At the beginning of the simulation, every delegate should send an email to the committee address. The subject line should be the delegate’s position. From that point on, all crisis notes will be sent in an email chain under that original message. Joint private directives should be on new email chains with all parties included, with one delegate writing the note and the other delegates agreeing to the actions taken in the note.
As in a normal committee, all of the crisis staff will be given assigned delegates to answer notes for, and they should be always logged into the crisis email and watching out for new notes. To track backroom actions, the crisis staff can use a shared tracking document. On the shared document, all of the crisis staff can note any actions are taken that may be significant to the course of the committee. For instance, if Norwegian troops move towards the border in preparation for an invasion of Sweden, then it should be noted in the tracking document.
Unlike in an in-person committee, the virtual crisis updates will not be nearly as theatrical. For clarity’s sake, one person should probably deliver the update instead of multiple. Perhaps that’s the crisis director, perhaps it’s just another member of the crisis staff. Whoever is delivering the updates should not be the host of the crisis room zoom because they will have to leave the crisis room and enter the committee zoom. The crisis director should also consider other creative ways to use technology for delivering updates, such as creating a committee twitter page.
The Background Guide
While this aspect of the committee is largely the same, it should be noted that a few additions need to be made to the background guide. Instructions for the updated parliamentary procedure (using the ‘raise hand’ feature or voting by poll) should be included somewhere in the background guide. In addition to this, the crisis email address and the instructions for the first crisis note should also be included.
Online simulations will play an important role in Model UN going forward. Until MUN teams can be together safely, teams must find creative ways to gather and to continue to participate in the activity that we all love. Online simulations provide us with some normality in this time that is anything but normal.
Related Article: Online Model UN Conferences Explained