After being selected to chair or direct a committee at a Model UN conference, many people immediately begin thinking about what UN committee, agency, IGO, or national cabinet they should simulate. Chairs often will choose committees and topics that they share a connection with, whether through family, interest, or study. From there, it seems a lot of conference staff simply go through the motions.
The path typically looks something like this:
Step 1: choose the committee
Step 2: choose the topics
Step 3: choose the committee assignments/roles
Step 4: research and write the background guide (and/or crisis plan)
Step 5: direct the committee
Conference staff can fall into a trap by taking this traditional approach. Because it is the most straight forward, this approach leaves the greatest opportunity for lackluster and poorly thought out committee experience. Throughout my Model UN career, the one word that I’ve cared most about as a conference or committee organizer has been the experience, more specifically the experience of all participants in the event. Will delegates and advisors be intrigued and excited about the committee and topic selection? How can I offer a distinctive experience that will have a lasting impact? How can I get the conference talking about my committee? How can it provide the most educational value? Chairs must consider all of these questions when designing a committee. The key verb here is design; not choose, not run, not chair.
Ultimately, the process of planning a committee should come down to this essential question:
What Do You Hope Your Delegates Learn?
To design a Model UN committee that will have the most impact, start with outlining the committee’s educational objectives. A chair must answer the question: what will your delegate learn by participating in your committee. Model UN committees should have specific objectives. For example, a chair could choose to educate delegates on how the UN operates in reality by using UN4MUN procedure in a simulation of the General Assembly. At the All-American Model UN NATO Security Academy, our simulations use consensus adoption when simulating the North Atlantic Treaty Organization because that’s how NATO adopts new policies. Let’s take another example: a joint crisis committee (JCC) with the Chinese Politburo and National Security Council of Taiwan. Rather than run this JCC as a war game where the world ends in a brilliant flash during the last committee session, one could design this JCC to show that all sides are best served by maintaining the status quo. For every action one committee makes, the crisis room can balance it with the response from outside actors, such as the US, and the other committee.
Let’s explore one final example. For years, I have used a simulation of the Executive Board of the World Health Organization. It’s a small front-room crisis committee made up of 12-16 delegates. By front-room crisis, I mean that delegates write and pass directives put individuals do cannot write private directives or crisis notes.
The committee begins with a potential outbreak of a new deadly flu strain during the Muslim annual Hajj. As the simulation progresses, more cases are reported and it appears the crisis is slipping out of control. Naturally, the committee begins passing more and more severe warnings and policies. In the end, most countries shut down their borders, leaving millions displaced, homeless, and sick. The final update of the simulation informs the committee that the illness was actually just food poisoning, and sharing food was the source of illness. The educational goal here should be clear: intergovernmental agencies have a heavy burden to act responsibly and must balance the need to respond quickly with the necessity of having correct information.
If given the opportunity to chair a committee, go beyond what’s expected. Design a remarkable simulation that will pull all of the delegates into debate and leave them with an educational takeaway.
The power of Model UN rests in the power of simulation.
Given a set of information, how would a country, IGO, or the UN Security Council respond? Is that response a positive or negative, and for whom? Probe these questions, and your next committee will be the one that everyone at the conference is talking about.