Guide to Organizing a Model United Nations Workshop

Who is this guide for?

The United Nations Guide for Model United Nations (MUN) is written principally for those (i.e., student leaders and MUN advisors) who organize Model UN simulations.

The aim of the guide is to provide information about the structure of the UN as well as the procedures and processes used for reaching decisions so that the leaders of MUN programmes will be able to organize simulations of meetings that accurately represent how the UN actually functions.

How is this guide different from other MUN guides?

The UN4MUN Guide to simulation GA meetings differs from other MUN guides in three important ways. First, it introduces a leadership structure and responsibilities that more accurately mirrors the relationship between the General Assembly and UN Secretariat. As a result, the student leaders play a more substantive role in the conference than they do in typical MUN simulations which adds to the appeal of their participation.

Second, it uses Rules of Procedure that are much closer to those used at the UN. While there is some variety in the rules of procedure used by Model UN programmes around the world, they are largely based on parliamentary rules of procedure which are different than those used at the UN. The General Assembly Rules of Procedure do not have many of the points and motions used during MUN simulations such as Points of Information, Points of Personal Privilege or Points of Inquiry.  In some instances, parliamentary procedures violate the sovereign rights of Member States and are therefore not appropriate to be used in simulations of the General Assembly or Security Council.  Even the terminology that has evolved over time is different than what is used at the UN. For example, the distinction between friendly and unfriendly amendments does not exist and the terms moderated and unmoderated caucuses are not used either.

Third, most decisions adopted by the General Assembly and even by the Security Council are made by consensus. The leadership structure and rules of procedure should support a working environment that encourages delegates to build consensus. This guide introduces new ideas of how MUN simulations can encourage consensus building.

Could you guide us, step-by-step, on how to organize a Model UN Workshop?

Yes, the following is a step-by-step guide on organizing a Model UN Workshop. It is divided into “Pre-Workshop/Conference,” including preparation for the Delegates, and “The Workshop/Conference Proper.”

PRE-WORKSHOP/CONFERENCE

Step 1:  Decide on a leadership structure for the overall conference

This entails choosing a Chair to lead the team that will organize the conference; setting up a Steering Committee or group of Committees that will get the ball rolling until the leaders of the simulation are chosen.  Here are the examples of the type of Committees you might set up:

  • Executive Committee, headed by a Chairman, that oversees the work of the steering committee(s) and makes basic decisions about the duration of the conference, the Rules of Procedure that will be used, how many days will be devoted to pre-conference activities and how many will be devoted to simulating GA Plenary and GA Main Committees, etc. The following committees are recommended:
  • Programme Committee that makes recommendations on which GA Main Committees will be simulated, how many topics will be discussed in each Committees, drafts a Programme for the conference
  • Communications Committee that develops a communication strategy
  • Logistics Committee that proposes a venue, looks at housing and transportation for delegates, proposes social events, manages the registration process
  • Fundraising and Sponsorship Committee that looks for sponsors of the conference in the private sector, among foundations, etc.
  • Financing and Budget Committee that determines how much it is all going to cost and manages the budget

Step 2: Decide which leadership positions are needed

The number of officials will depend in part on the size of the conference.  We recommend the following structure for GA and Secretariat officials:

General Assembly

  • President of the General Assembly (PGA)
  • Vice-Presidents (this will depend on the size but it would be ideal to have at least one VP from each regional group)
  • Chair (one per Committee)
  • Vice-Chair (up to 3 per Committee depending on the size of the conference)
  • Rapporteur (one per Committee)

Secretariat

  • Secretary-General
  • Deputy-Secretary-General (optional, again depends on the size of the conference)
  • Under-Secretary-General (USG) for Political Affairs (especially important to have when doing Security Council simulations as well)
  • Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs (very important to the work of the Second and Third Committees, this USG is useful in making presentations on substantive issues to these Committees)
  • Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly Affairs and Conference Management (this position is critical to the success of the conference because he/she overseeS every logistical aspect of the conference that includes set up of rooms, signage for delegates, registration, housing for delegates, making sure that copies of draft resolutions are disseminated to delegates during Committee proceedings, as well as copies of resolutions that have been adopted in time for the closing Plenary meeting, etc.)
  • Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information (this USG is important to raise the visibility of the conference by liaising with the media to cover the conference and conduct interviews, issuing press releases, documenting the conference and publishing a newsletter that keeps the delegates up to date on what is happening, etc.)
  • Secretary (one per Committee, perhaps the most important position on the Bureau, the Secretary is responsible for advising the Chair on matters dealing with the Rules of Procedure, providing scripts of what the Chair needs to say during each Committee meeting, liaising with delegates regarding requests to be put on the Speaker’s List, tabling resolutions and amendments, etc.)

Other positions can be added depending on what makes most sense given the content of the conference.

Step 3: Promote the conference and set up a registration process

Step 4: Select the leaders of the simulation in a fair and transparent manner from those that have registered for the conference (see Step 2 above on the suggested selection process) ensuring that they represent as many as the regional groups as possible and are gender balanced.

Step 5: Once the leaders are selected, the GA and Secretariat officials training should be provided to make sure they are familiar with the Rules of Procedure as well as their roles and responsibilities.

Step 6: Set timeline for important tasks to be completed by the GA and Secretariat officials including the following:

  • Memorandum of the Secretary-General on the Organization of the xxth regular session of the [insert name of MUN] General Assembly
  • Annotated version of the preliminary list of items to be included in the provisional agenda of the [insert name of MUN] General Assembly
  • General Committee Report
  • Secretary-General Reports on each topic to be discussed that gives the delegates an overview of the issue, the challenges that need to be faced, what the UN has done so far, and what still needs to be done

Step 7: Assign countries and topics to conference participants

This is a crucial step that needs to be carefully thought through. In many Model UN simulations, schools send teams of delegates that work together. In these cases, a country and topic is assigned to a team of students who attend the same school.

An alternate way of organizing delegations that takes more work but is more rewarding, is to put together delegations comprised of students from different locations.  In other words, no two students in any delegation are from the same school.  We used this system in our three Global Model UN conferences and the experience of having students from different countries working together to represent the same country was one of the highlights of the conference.

When choosing the composition of a delegation it is important to take into consideration the following factors:

  • The geographical distribution of the delegates who are working together;
  • The gender balance of the delegation; and,
  • The number of MUN conferences delegates have attended.

What you want to obtain are delegations that are geographically diverse, gender balanced and include delegates with a range of MUN experience. This way the more experienced delegates can mentor the less experienced ones. The most experienced MUN delegate should be the Head delegate.

Set a deadline for submitting Position Papers to the Committee Chairs and make sure the guidelines for writing these papers are available to all participants. Chairs should review each Position Paper and return them with feedback prior to the conference.

Step 8:  Create an online space where delegates can work together prior to the conference

In addition to having a website about the conference where delegates can access information about when it will take place, how they can apply, etc., it is important to create a space where delegates can communicate with each other.  If you choose to put students from different locations on the same delegation, they will need a way to prepare for the conference before it starts. Check in regularly with the Head delegates to make sure they are in touch with all of the students on their delegation and respond to any issues that may come up.

Step 9:  Have live video chats, Google+ hangouts or some other similar format with experts on the topics to be discussed or other important aspects of the conference such as how to write a resolution, the Rules of Procedure, or discussions on which regional or political groups are most likely to table resolutions in each Committee.

Step 10: Distribute the conference programme as soon as possible prior to the conference.

Step 11: Assemble MUN officials several days before the conference to allow them time to complete their preparations for the conference including but not limited to writing speeches, creating scripts for Chairs, preparing the venue, etc.

Step 12: Recruit volunteers to assist in as many aspects of the conference as needed and organize training before conference begins.  Create a manual for volunteers detailing what they need to do.

You can never underestimate the importance of volunteers in helping the conference run smoothly.  Make a list of all the tasks where additional assistance is needed and organize a training session for them prior to the conference so that they are clear about what is required of them.

Step 13: Set aside one or two days before the conference actually begins to organize workshops at the conference venue (see sample programme here).

These workshops should include training on the Rules of Procedure and briefings on topics of interest to the delegates. These can focus on substantive issues related to the items to be discussed during the conference or issues of general interest such as information about the work of UN agencies or employment at the UN.

Preparing the Delegates

  1. Gathering Information

The first step should be to read the UN Charter.

Then, here are four important areas for delegates to research as part of their preparation for a conference:

The UN system. Delegates should be aware of the 6 main organs of the UN plus the UN family and how it relates to the General Assembly (see overview in this guide). The history, culture, political structure, and current political affairs of the countries that have been assigned for a simulation. In addition to resources on these topics, it may be useful to read fiction and non-fiction books (e.g., biographies) written by authors who live in the country you have been assigned. They may offer insights into the culture of the country delegates will be representing.

Government positions on the topics will be discussed at a MUN conference. In order to adequately represent a country during the conference, a delegate will need to interact with delegates representing other countries. Knowing the viewpoints and policies of “their” country as well as those positions of other countries that will be represented will help delegates predict what will be said during the debate phase of the conference. This will be very useful in helping delegates identify which countries will be in agreement with their position and which ones will be opposed. In addition, it will help them decide in advance where it might be useful to seek cooperation or compromise.

Positions of the main political groups, such as the Group of 77 and China, Non-Aligned Movement, European Union, African Union, etc. (see list of Groups of Member States) are equally important since many negotiations at the UN often take place between political groups.

Current statistical data on assigned countries and topics.

Research

When preparing for a conference, it is useful for delegates to divide the research into four categories:

  • General research on the assigned topic. A delegate should be well-versed on the topic they will be debating.
  • General research on the background and culture of the country they have been assigned.
  • Research on the policies of “their” country on the topics they will be debating.
  • Research on the policies of other countries that will be represented at the conference so that they can anticipate the arguments that might be put forward by other delegates.
  • Researching country policies on an assigned topic

Delegates should look for books and websites that give a general overview of the topic as well as information on more specific aspects of your topic. It is important to get an idea of how complex the subject is and how many different aspects of the topic might be discussed during the conference.

When delegates use the Internet for their research they should make sure to carefully select their sources. The amount of materials available is likely to be far greater than what they can digest in the amount of time they have available to prepare for a conference.

It is also important for them to keep in mind that web resources must be selected carefully. Not all web sites are reliable sources and many of the sources may be biased. If possible, delegates should try to find independent confirmation of the information they have obtained from more than one source.

Moreover, when gathering information it is important to distinguish between opinions and facts. Facts are used to support opinions. Whenever possible, delegates should use facts to support their arguments. Sometimes, however, there are instances when facts are not available. Ultimately, delegates will be presenting an opinion and must defend it against other opinions. Therefore, it is crucial for them to be familiar with different viewpoints and opinions on the topics they are assigned. Delegates should study arguments that are different from the one their assigned country is likely to take on a topic. Therefore, they need to analyse the facts that are used to support opposing arguments. Sometimes the same facts can be used to support two different positions on a topic. Delegates will need to decide which particular points they want to focus on in their arguments and this decision needs to be guided by their country’s policies on the topic they are debating!

When searching the Internet for information it is usually a good idea to vary the keywords used to research an assigned topic. This will sometimes lead you to additional sources of information which you might not have found if the keyword search is too narrow.

Here are some common internet resources to help delegates get started:

Permanent Missions to the United Nations Many Missions to the UN post statements and other information about their positions on issues of importance.

Ministries of Foreign Affairs The foreign affairs websites often contain information about governmental policies on different issues.

UNBISNET This UN library reference also provides voting records for all General Assembly resolutions adopted since 1946 as well as an index to speeches. This database allows users to search all speeches given by a country on a specific topic.

UN Member States on the Record This official UN website provides information about the membership of each Member State, an index to their speeches in the General Assembly, Security Council and ECOSOC, draft resolutions they have sponsored, and periodic reports on human rights conventions they are parties to.

UN Global Issues This official UN resources gives an overview of each issues on the UN agenda as well as useful links to other UN related bodies and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), past summits and conferences and important documents on each issue. NGOs are a good source of information that should not be overlooked. In addition to performing a variety of services and humanitarian functions, bringing citizens’ concerns to Governments, monitoring policies and encouraging political participation at the community level, they also provide analysis of issues, serve as early warning mechanisms and help monitor and implement international agreements. Some are organized around specific issues, such as human rights, the environment or health. The UN works with thousands of NGOs all over the world: around 4,000 have a formal association with the UN, through the Department of Public Information and the ECOSOC. The main UN website contains an extensive list of NGOs organized alphabetically as well as by region and topic.

Finally, delegates should read UN resolutions on their assigned topic to find out what issues tend to be discussed when their topic is debated. Resolutions passed by the General Assembly, Security Council, and ECOSOC can be found at the UN Documentation Centre.

  1. Preparation of Position Papers

The position paper is a brief and concise description of a State’s, international organisation’s or NGO’s position and priorities for a given committee. The position paper allows delegations to plan their course of action before the meeting by taking into consideration each country’s positions on the topics to be discussed at the conference. Once the position paper is finalized it should be shared with the chairpersons of the committee, it will allow them to give delegates useful feedback on what they have written prior to the conference.

Content

The position paper on an assigned topic should contain the following elements:

  • A general sentence in the beginning clearly stating the country’s position;
  • A succinct policy statement for each topic representing the relevant views of the country that has been assigned;
  • An elaboration of the position that includes one or more of the following: quotes from the UN Charter; agreements/resolutions your Member State has ratified; quotes from statements made by your Head of State, Head of Government, ministers, delegates to the UN, and any other relevant international documents including but not limited to Reports from the UN Secretary-General on the topic;
  • Recommendations for actions to be taken by the committee; and
  • A conclusion restating assigned country’s position on the topic.

Relevant statistics, quotes etc. should be cited in an accepted scholarly citation format.

Do NOT use the first person in a position paper. Instead simply use the delegation’s name or alternatively expressions such as “our government”, “our country”, “our nation”. Long essay-type position papers presenting a nation’s history or background information on the topic are not useful. A simple and concise overview is best.

DURING THE CONFERENCE

  1. Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly

Step 1: The order of the items during the first Plenary Meeting should be as follows:

1) Statement by the President of the General Assembly

2) Minute of silent prayer or meditation

3) Statement of the Secretary-General

4) Organization of work, General Committee report, adoption of the agenda and allocation of items

5) Statements by Head delegates; delegations should request to be put on the Speaker’s List by sending an email to the MUN Secretariat prior to the Plenary meeting; the number of delegates that can speak will depend on how much time is available and how many delegations there are; if time is limited, first priority should be given to the Heads of Regional Groups and then with what ever time remains to individual delegations

2. Committee Meetings

Step 1: Make sure each Committee has a Bureau comprised of a Chair, Vice-Chair, Rapporteur and Secretary.

The only people that need to be seated on the podium at any one time are the Chair, Rapporteur and Secretary.  If there is a guest expert that has been invited for an interactive session with the Committee, then he/she would be seated on the podium as well.

Step 2: At the beginning of the first meeting of each Committee, the Chair should go over the Programme of Work that will provide the framework for its deliberations.

During the formal meetings, deliberations on each agenda item allocated to a Committee are split into two parts: 1) a discussion phase and 2) an action phase. The discussion phase is the time in which delegations make statements on the agenda item that is being discussed. Delegates must let the Secretary of the Committee know that they wish to be put on the Speaker’s List. The order of speakers is on a first come, first served basis. It is up to the Chair to decide whether the Speaker’s List will remain open during the meeting or whether there should be a deadline for requests. While the discussion phase is taking place, the sponsors of a resolution should be working behind the scenes to build support and to identify which delegations want to be a co-sponsor. Research should be conducted prior to the conference to determine which delegations, regional or political groups are most likely to sponsor or co-sponsor a resolution on the agenda item that has been allocated to the Committee. The blocs should work together on the draft resolution before it is tabled.

Step 3: Allot time at the beginning of the first Committee meeting for an interactive session with an expert on the topic that is being debated.

If one is not available, one of the MUN USGs should be able to brief the delegates.

Step 4: Schedule time each day for the General Committee and Bureaus to meet to review the progress that is being made and identify differences between their positions on the topics being debated that might impact whether a resolution is adopted by consensus or not.

Also allow time for the Head delegates to meet with their delegations.

Step 5: Assign facilitators (e.g., GA Vice-President, a Head delegate or any other delegate that possesses the diplomatic skills as outlined in the section on the negotiation process) to help delegations reach consensus where needed.

Step 6: Once ready, the draft resolution should be tabled with the Secretary of the Committee so that they can be distributed to all delegates before action is taken on it.

After delegates have had sufficient time to read the draft resolution, then the main sponsor can introduce it during one of the formal meetings of the Committee.

Step 7: Soon after a draft resolution is tabled, an informal meeting should be scheduled to review the draft resolution line by line.

Following each review a “compilation text” should be circulated that reflects how the current status of the negotiation process. (See page 57 of The PGA Handbook for an example of what a compilation text would include). Sometimes a draft resolution needs to go through a few reviews before consensus is achieved. If consensus is reached during the review process, the Bureau should be informed before hand that the resolution will be adopted by consensus. However, if there is difficulty in reaching consensus, the Chair can appoint a facilitator to help resolve what ever issues remain. Given the time constraints within Model UN conferences, delegates need to be cognizant of how much time they have to take action on a resolution. When consensus is not possible, even with the assistance of a facilitator, the delegation that wishes to request a vote needs to notify the Secretary of the Committee of this request beforehand.

Step 8: At the first formal meeting following the informal meeting(s) to review the text of the draft resolution, if consensus was reached on the text, any delegation wishing to introduce an amendment to the draft resolution can do so. 

Amendments, like draft resolutions, must be tabled with the Secretary of the Committee in advance to allow sufficient time to distribute the proposed amendment before a vote is taken on it. If there is more than one amendment, action will be taken on each amendment in the order in which it was received.

Please note that there is no such thing as friendly and unfriendly amendments at the UN. Amendments are introduced if consensus cannot be achieved and they are tabled by Member States that have not co-sponsored the draft resolution that has been tabled.  In some cases, Member States who strongly oppose a draft resolution or an amendment to the resolution will raise a Point of Order and make a Motion for Adjournment of Debate. This is referred to as a No Action Motion because if a majority of Member States who are present vote in favor of adjourning debate, no action is taken on the resolution or amendment. While it has the same outcome as if there had been a vote and the resolution or amendment was defeated, the Motion for Adjournment of Debate can be used to severely limit discussion of the item before action is taken.

Step 9: Repeat these steps for each resolution that is tabled.

One thing that must be carefully considered is how many items should be allocated to each Committee. Given the time constraints, it is better to leave enough time to do one resolution really well than to find you have to rush on the last day of the conference to complete the work because there is more than one resolution to take action on. The steps proposed in this guide include elements that are not ordinarily included in Model UN simulations. The review of draft resolutions alone, if done correctly, will add time to the negotiation process but at the same time make it more manageable. At the same it will create the need for more informal consultations in order to resolve different views on the how the text should be revised.