Ahh, the first Model UN. Intimidating, right? You don’t even know where to start, people keep using terminology that you don’t quite understand, yet the date of the conference only keeps getting closer. Trust me, though, it might be hard to prepare for the first time, but once you get a hang of it, it will be a piece of cake.
So, you have applied and have been chosen to participate in a conference. What now?
If a conference is big enough, you might have a co-delegate. In this case, the work you will have to do should be at least half easier than it would be if you are alone. If your co-delegate is experienced, this is who you will turn to for advice. Get to know you partner before the conference and effectively share the workload.
Before your assignment, you will most likely be getting little tasks from your organizing team or from you chair. However, the preparations start after you have been assigned the topic, and the country you will be representing. The three main aspects of your preparation will be research, opening speech and a position paper.
1) How to do the research for a Model UN?
The structure of MUN Research is essentially a triangle with its points being Committee Research, Country Research and Topic Research.
a) Committee Research
The place to start your committee research is the official United Nations portal. Once you got there, browse through the section Structure and Organization.
Introduce yourself to the committee’s actual competences, working procedure and topics on the agenda. Pay attention to the rules of procedure, official documents (statements, reports, resolutions, decision), and the language used in sessions. Check out the videos of sessions to see how diplomats interact.
b) Country Research
Before researching your country’s position on a specific issues, it is recommended that you see how your country fares in that particular committee, as well as get familiar with some basic facts about your country.
Delegates usually turn to the World Fact book for this part of the research. It is a rich and regularly updated portal of country profiles (with glossary, data, flags, maps, country comparisons) and it is considered to be an authority in the field.
Below are some important building blocks of your country profile research:
Getting familiar with your country’s geographical position, relations with its neighbours and its standing in a wider regions means that you will be able to think about the prospects for future politics. It can also help you understand the motivations behind your allies’ and competitors’ policies. However, beware of geographical determinism and geopolitical thinking - a political reality is much more complex and you should count in the other building blocks in your research as well.
Knowing about the past events, important leaders, policies, and alliances can help you better situate your country on a certain topic. History being rather static variable can help us gain understanding of how things developed up to present days, but beware of using historical determinism in thinking about the future.
It concerns the process of determining goals, choosing means and achieving ends through various political strategies (negotiation, cooperation, conflict). Think about how to formulate and protect the interests of your country, but be ready to achieve those while giving way to the logic of international society. Diplomacy is an essential part of such international relations (and international society), where rules and institutions are the drivers of state behavior.
Policies at hand depend on the aggregate capacities of economic resources a country possesses, as well as the ability of its leadership to maximize their use. Planning for a grandiose diplomatic network worldwide is just not an option for a small island state, while great powers can think of building powerful navies and using generous funds to support their public diplomacies abroad.
Knowing about ethnic structure, culture, habits, and general social cohesion can help you master the country role-play. Poor understanding of cultural differences or how societies perceive one another can lead to an underperformance in session, and subsequently, dampen the effect of your policies.
- United Nations
Pay attention to a particular style of multilateral diplomacy at the UN, with its diplomatic protocol, rules of procedure, and resolution writing.
Please remember that “gunboat-style diplomacy” is something considered unacceptable by the letter of the Charter of the United Nations. Prepare yourself to act as patient, skillful and courteous a diplomat who cares about maintaining international peace and security.
*In case you are representing an international organization, or other non-state entity (e.g. NGO), try doing the background research based on available information for that particular entity.
c) Topic Research
This is where you combine your knowledge of the committee and the country with the aim of tackling a specific issues and writing a position paper.
Model UN conferences usually provide detailed study guide with enough background information on the topic. After you learn about the topic, think about the actual or potential responses of your country on the topic. For example, what is France’s response to the Syrian crisis? How the government in Paris has reacted so far, what position it has taken in the Security Council, etc?
Search the official sources first. You may want to visit the website of your country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or a permanent mission to the UN and check the policies taken on an issue. Analyze the UN resolutions, statements and voting records.
If it so happens that your topic is fictional, or that your country has not really had any ties to such a discussion before, seek secondary sources, e.g. new articles, books, policy papers, NGO reports. You will need to come up with the solution from your research as a whole. This is where your creativity comes into play.
The internet is an ocean of information, and that is precisely why you should be careful to use sources that are credible. While most sources are available online, you could still visit a library and look for refereed journals, academic articles or use the power of indexes and databases.
Pay attention to the sources you use, critically value them. It is advisable to avoid websites that are not dated or do not credit their sources.
For basic information on current events, start from news sources. Use a major Internet search engine (Google, Yahoo, etc) and look for news. For primary sources such as speeches, reports, resolutions, use the official United Nations and governmental websites. Then, you can try searching various tanks (but pay attention to their objectivity) for specialized thematic areas. For additional reference, use academic publications, books and articles.
Check out this detailed list of credible Model UN Research Sources.
2) How to write a position paper?
Position Paper is a document which presents the background, principles and solutions a country (or international organization, NGO) offers regarding a topic under discussion, and every delegation is supposed to prepare one before the conference starts. It represents a clear and organized policy statement that serves to communicate your delegation’s standing on the topic, and is a backbone of your policies throughout the session.
In order to write a good Position Paper, follow the substantial instructions below and pay attention to its structure:
Reflect on your committee topic in a general manner, but this time from a national perspective; What has the UN done so far on the issue. Mention the main UN documents on the issue (resolutions, reports, statements).
Look for official national policy statements regarding a thematic issue (published by the President, Government, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, etc.)
Develop a strategy for dealing with the key issues (e.g. calling for concrete measures to resolve a refugee crisis in the Great Lakes region, by offering logistical help, proposing immediate ceasefire, sanctions, etc).
If you propose certain measures, make sure to provide arguments and justify why you advocate such exact policy course.
There are some accepted technical requirements, although MUNs often provide guidelines for Position Paper writing themselves.
Your position paper shall be 1-2 pages long. Otherwise, no one will bother to read it, and it loses focus. On the other hand, you may also prepare notes and additional supporting material (statements, resolutions, policy papers, press releases, etc.) which you can put in a folder (or store them on your computer) and use during the session.
In the header of the document put Committee name, topic title, delegation name and delegate(s) name(s).
In terms of style, avoid addressing by first person singular. Try using collective forms such as “the government of X”, “The Republic of Y”, “Our government”.
Check out a position paper sample.
3) How to write a Model UN opening speech
When preparing your speech, think about how it will benefit your committee, apart from being useful to yourself. It will spark a discussion, establish new partnerships, and give you an edge.
Your opening speech should go somewhere along the lines of your position paper, just in oral form. You should state your policy on the topic, and then propose solutions.
It is a speech so try to make it interesting. The best would be to grab everyone’s attention at the beginning of the speech, and then proceed on to stating your policy and providing possible solutions.
The speeches last from around 45 seconds to about a minute, so don’t plan too long a speech.
Check out an opening speech sample.
- For a more detailed look at becoming a Model UN delegate, check out our free eBook "Becoming a Model UN Delegate - An Essential Guide Through the MUN World"