10 Lessons from the Model UN Standings (open thread for feedback)

by KFC on April 8, 2011

The two series of MUN Standings articles we have produced – America’s Best High School Model UN Teams and the Best College Model UN Teams – is the culmination of a lot of work gathering data throughout the year and an attempt at being the first one to centralize and aggregate all this data. The articles have garnered immense interest and we are very excited about the response we have received.

What we wanted to do with this post is to share ten lessons we have learned during this exercise and to open up the comments thread for constructive feedback on not just how to improve the Standings methodology but also on how to address larger issues regarding conferences that your school attends – or doesn’t have the opportunity to attend.

First, five lessons from completing the project:

1. We will start streamlining the collection of data. Now that we have centralized the awards data and received an overwhelming positive response to these Standings, we know schools are interested in reading about it and would want to know the Standings throughout the season in the future. We do admit that it’s difficult to manually collect all this data and that there were a few errors during our first time doing it, but it was more important that we tried so that we could get feedback on whether a streamlined process was worth developing.

2. Centralizing Model UN is beneficial for the community. Due to decentralization, it is difficult to know which teams are really good or are making contributions to the Model UN activity – it’s quite possible that many of the schools outside the Northeast have never heard of most of the schools Top 10 and vice versa and particularly so if schools don’t travel outside their region. We speak often about the “Model UN community,” but this community is relatively fragmented and we think connecting the different schools and students including those who only attend smaller, regional conferences will yield numerous benefits, some of which we already mentioned in our overview.

3. Reactions of pride were the most rewarding response for us. Whenever we saw students or alumni get excited about where they placed, we felt rewarded because that was the purpose behind creating these Standings. We wanted others to be proud of themselves and their teams. To us, the sad response were students who were disappointed – or didn’t know how to react – because of the worldview they have been trained with or the emphasis on awards that have been instilled onto them. Placing in the Top 25 – or even the Top 100 that we didn’t release – is already an incredible accomplishment. We hope students understand this and learn that at the end of the day, those who recognize the value of Model UN over just the awards won will get much more out of the activity than those who only cared about rankings and awards.

4. We hope students use these Standings to promote their accomplishments. Of all the benefits that we mentioned in our Overview, we think this one is the most relevant to the readers. Programs should use these standings to recruit more members into their team, to show to their school administration in hopes of receiving funding or support, and to publicize their accomplishments in school and local newspapers. This shouldn’t be a one-time thing — schools should be promoting their accomplishments throughout the school year.

5. Ideas for Model UN reform needs to be communicated to the conferences. An inadvertent result of doing these Standings is that participants have become more willing to share their concerns to us about some of these conferences. In the high school level, the issues seem to be large committees, low educational quality, limited use of technology, lax on enforcement of the rules including on plagiarism, and criteria of judging awards. On the college level, the issue seems to be the simulation of non-U.N. committees. However, we believe these issues should be brought up directly with the conference organizers. It is only with clear feedback can they improve – and establish themselves as a conference that you would want to regularly attend. We understand there needs to be a centralized platform that allows for regular, productive communication between schools and conference organizers, and we hope we can improve this site as a platform to facilitate this for the benefit of all participants.

Next, five lessons from the comments on methodology:

6. Conferences have different philosophies, awards systems, and judging metrics. Each one requires a different skill set to win, and we don’t favor one philosophy over another. Schools need to understand that just because a conference is not as “competitive” as Harvard HMUN or Georgetown NAIMUN does not necessarily mean it is not difficult to win there – it’s analogous to understanding that business is conducted differently around the world in real life. We believe the best teams can adapt across conference philosophies or know to choose conferences that match their own philosophies. We have written about this subject as a delegate strategy, as a team-building strategy, and in our guide, How to Win Awards in Model United Nations.

7. Teachers should select conferences that give their students the best educational experience. One of our fears in producing the Standings is that teams will want to start gaming the system and attend only conferences that have high weighting – hence we didn’t release the specific weighting we gave for each conference. We’re confident though that teachers will have their students’ best interests in mind and continue to select the conferences that are best for their students – and not necessarily best for the Standings (which could lead to increased pressure and emphasis on winning awards). In fact, we advocate a balance of conferences of different competitiveness when building a top travel team, and we will look at how to best integrate smaller, more regional conferences into the methodology.

8a. Conferences need to be reweighted in the high school standings. This came from two ends of the spectrum as schools of all calibers wanted to boost their own standing and believe their conferences are more competitive than they are currently weighted. On one end, the top schools want their head-to-head competition with each other to boost each others’ profiles and therefore perpetuate their ability to stay on top. Therefore, a mid-sized conference could be considered a more competitive conference than a large, national one and earn everyone more points on the Standings. Regions with active circuits will certainly benefit in future Standings with this weighting that is more biased toward “actual” competition. And on the other end, many good teams that do not have the opportunity to travel to these major conferences also want their smaller, local conferences to receive a weighting boost because they are in fact competitive with very good teams and should be counted for more than what they currently do.

8b. Harvard National HNMUN is overweighted in the college standings. We anticipated this would happen, especially since they provided a full awards list whereas that information was not available for many of the other conferences. Therefore, it was much easier to use their data for head-to-head comparisons and we mentioned their increased influence in the methodology. The solution for “fairer” weightings in the college standings — especially for those that do not attend HNMUN — is to gain access to more complete awards information from every conference or figure out a way to streamline awards results submission from schools.

9. Absolute number of awards should be rewarded more than winning percentage. Conferences use winning percentage to determine awards won because smaller teams have lobbied to get an even playing field when they are compared in the same size tier as other schools for delegation awards. That’s fine, but the Best Delegate team values absolute number of awards more than winning percentage. To make a basketball analogy, a game isn’t won by the percentage of shots made but by the total shots made (points scored). Awards aside, we believe teams should be growing the activity and bringing as many delegates as they want to. If more delegates win, then they deserve recognition for that team-wide effort. We used this in our methodology to figure out “3rd place,” “4th place,” and so forth and will continue to do so with minor modifications.

10. The number of conferences used for calculations may need to be capped. We believe in absolute number of awards won including delegation awards, but there are certainly issues to this. On the high school level, socioeconomic factors, distance, or administration limitations may prevent teams from competing in many conferences every year. Teams that attend more conferences will have the opportunity to earn a higher aggregate score, but then that means we’re judging the program’s quality (to field a team) instead of the actual team’s quality (to perform at a conference). It’s a similar case on the college level. One solution is to take the top standard number of results — say, five conferences — from each school to level the playing field from factors outside the teams’ control, but we hope this will not discourage teams from attending more conferences.

There are already plenty of other comments from all the articles.

America’s Best High School Model UN Teams:
Overview, Methodology, Top 1-5, Top 6-10Top 11-15, and top 16-25!

The Best College Model UN Teams:
Overview, Methodology, Top 1-5, top 6-10top 11-15 and top 16-25, and international top 20!

Now we wanted to open it up for feedback. What did we do well? What needs to be improved or changed? What are the more important takeaways (e.g. dialogue on conference reform) that should be implemented from this exercise?

**

If you would like to give us general feedback on Best Delegate beyond just the MUN Standings articles, please take our reader survey.

  • anonymous

    I agree with almost all of this except for number 9. I think that a delegation’s percentage is more important than total number of awards won because some delegations are much larger than others. A club that brings 75 delegates to a conference will probably end up winning more awards than a club that brings 25 delegates just because of sheer numbers. Does that mean that the larger club is better? No, it means that they just have a larger club probably because more students attend their school.

    • KFC

      Thanks Anonymous. That’s a good point, and I did think about how this might affect schools with small enrollments (e.g. private schools). I realize it’s difficult to come to an agreement on what defines a “good” team — are we counting how good the team is on a per capita basis or perhaps counting how good a program is by how many good delegates they have total? Either way, your point is taken.

  • Wedler

    Hmmm. The whole demographic issue is interesting. I imagine that some “small” private schools probably have as many or more potential quality delegates than some “large” public schools, especially if the public school is not in a very good area economically. But if you have similar schools ($) but one has 3000 kids and the other 1500 then it would make sense that the larger school could bring a much larger delegation, and if the quality of the students was comparable the big school would automatically win, so that does not seem right at all. So I have to agree fully with anonymous on this one.

    This is a tough question. Do you want to have a top 25 SMALL SCHOOL/DELEGATION ranking, and then a top 25 LARGE SCHOOL ranking based on size of school? But then private schools with hundreds of really smart kids would be considered “small.” Unless they wanted to be considered in the large category. Never thought about this before. Definitely interesting.

    • KFC

      Another complication is that schools can (intentionally or unintentionally) switch between large school and small school delegations depending on how many people they want to bring to each conference or what that conference’s size cutoff is. West Windsor Plainsboro HS South and Cerritos are two examples that come to mind that won delegation awards in both the large and small category. One other interesting note: Dalton is a small private school yet it won all its awards as a large delegation.

  • http://www.mvhsmun.org Dominic Trevino

    What about the idea of joining a MUN Association through Best Delegate with minimal fees, say $25 per school or $1 per delegate and $50 per conference, for those conferences and schools who wish to be competitive and ranked. This might work something like National Forensics League or any of the sports league. Conferences, schools, and delegates that registered could have an affiliation and certification along with their rankings.

    • KFC

      This is an interesting idea and we had considered the idea of some type of association in the past. I’d be curious to see what other participants think about this.

  • Brett Rosen

    In Conn sports leagues, private schools or ‘schools of choice’ have their enrollments doubled for placement in division. Ie: Private school with 700 kids is placed in 1000-2000 student sports division.

    Perhaps this would work for mun?

    • KFC

      It’s possible; we’ll research into 1) if schools want to be sorted by divisions in the first place and 2) how to go about creating those divisions.

      In some sports leagues and other competitions (e.g. marching band), teams can always choose to compete at a higher ‘class’ than their default one.

  • Wedler

    KFC:

    I read a note on another stream about how Harvard changed its practice of determining delegation awars. Do you know what the story is? Are they following the BD idea of highest number awards received regardless of how many delegates attend from a school?

    W

  • Carl

    Perhaps a “Best Delegate MUN Confrence” (BDMUNC), where the p5 teams would be invited to battle it out head to head, to determine the national champion?

    • KFC

      That would be an interesting concept and we have considered running our own conferences. Despite our name though, our focus isn’t on competition. We’d rather run a conference because schools want a good educational experience or a quality chairing experience out of it. We’ll look into running a centralized “championship” conference only if the highly competitive teams want it, otherwise right now we’re focusing on one-day Training Conferences for newer programs.

      We plan to go on tour during next Fall to run these Training Conferences. Potential locations are listed in the Reader Survey:
      http://bestdelegate.com/take-the-best-delegate-reader-survey/

    • Alex N.

      Harvard already exists. It serves as a world championship round. PCHS, H. Mann, Dalton and Lab, along with many other top ranked schools not in the p5 already attend. The only school missing is Mira Costa. It’s an established and fantastic conference, and the creation of another that these schools might not even attend seems redundant, particularly given the fiasco that is NHSMUN.

  • Teddy

    Harvard changed the number of people that qualified to be a small delegation. Part of the reason UChicago did not get a delegation award is due to the fact that they believed they were competing in the small delegation category, but instead were competing as a large delegation. Generally, it seems this practice has been viewed as cheating the system. Now KFC is applauding Dalton for being able to bring large delegations to all of their conferences.

    I just want to point out that a lot of the time there are other reasons that a school would bring a small delegation as opposed to a large delegation (not just “cheating the system”). For one, Dalton takes buses to all of its conferences. This makes trips a lot easier than those schools that need to fly to their destination. The more students one takes, the more chaperones there needs to be, and the more expensive a trip becomes. Moreover, 30-40 students missing from a small private school is a large percentage missing from the student body (bordering on 10%), such that this makes other teachers upset. In regards to my school at least, not every student on the team can make every conference, and many more aren’t capable of making the work commitment. This is something else that whittles down at numbers.

    Just consider that there may be other reasons a school is not able to take a large delegation besides competition. On that note, I do think it’s unfair delegations would be viewed from the perspective that whoever gets the most awards should win. When Basketball teams play, they have an equal numbers of players able to score the points. Not to mention that there are always people “benched” in basketball games.

    Also, I think any idea of paying to be in an association is ridiculous. MUN should be run by colleges and students, not a random blog that claims to know everything about MUN (my apologies, KFC).

    • KFC

      Thanks — these are good comments and I totally understand since I had been in situations where my team was only able to field a small delegation due to factors outside of our control.

    • KFC

      There are two parts to your association comment:

      I believe almost all academic competitions are centralized. MUN is currently decentralized and run by colleges and students. The question that needs to be asked in regards to the association is what schools and participants would get out of it. There are both positives and negatives to it. Schools would favor centralization only if they gain certain benefits from it — what may those be? Otherwise of course conference organizers would never want to give up their autonomy and all programs would not want their costs to be increased.

      If schools think an association carries more benefits, then the next question is who would do it. In my opinion, I believe that role should fall under UNA-USA or the UN DPI — some group that has affiliation with the UN. I wouldn’t rule out a private player like Best Delegate though. I wouldn’t call us a “random blog” — we’re actually a Model UN company that produces MUN resources and provides coaching services, and the blog is only one aspect of our company.

      • Teddy

        Understood. I still think that there are many difficulties to centralization, as is demonstrated here by all the comments/disagreements. But I do get your point.

    • Ronald

      How could Uchicago think that they were competing as a small delegation?They brought almost 30 people. Can someone please explain this? Shouldn’t Harvard release this information so that delegations know what size they fall under?

      • Teddy

        From my count UChicago brought 20 kids to HMUN, thinking they would be a small delegation (because that was the small delegation limit in the past). And no, HMUN did not release that information.

      • Anon

        I believe that “Teddy” means UChicago Lab School, the high school affiliated with UChicago, not UChicago the University. UChicago Lab brought the same number of delegates as they had in previous years that qualified them as a small delegation, but this year Harvard changed their numbers for the High School conference (yes, that is a number they should have released) so Lab was considered a large delegation but had no delegates on ECOSOCs since they thought they were small. That being said they still won either the third or fourth most total awards with many less kids then the other schools.

        I agree that it seems weird to only count the total number of awards instead of the number per delegates. Many schools can only bring small delegations due to a lack of support from the teachers at their school.

    • Ronald

      Also, UChicago did win a delegation award.

    • Wedler

      Quick question again, does Harvard no longer use percentages, and instead just concentrate on total amount of individual awards to figure out delegation awards? Does anyone ever know exactly what the process is for any conference?

      W

  • MW

    Why don’t you release the top 100 list?

    • KFC

      We plan to release the full list for the final, end-of-year standings. Our team thought it would’ve been information overload if we did that for this series of articles since it was our first time doing it. In fact, we were almost going to release only the Top 10.

  • Mike

    Speaking specifically about the college circuit, centralizing data collection and scoring is important if these rankings are to have any meaning (and based on what I’ve seen this year, you guys did a good job). I would say that if BD is looking to preserve the educational and social missions of MUN (which I would definitely encourage), then percentage scoring is undesirable. It would be a shame if MUN became a sort of “varsity sport” with homogenized hyper-competitive delegations of 10-12 at each conference.

    • KFC

      I agree with all your comments and our team members’ backgrounds make us in favor of larger teams too because we want to spread the opportunity to participate in Model UN to as many people as possible. All four of the team members spent years leading UNA-USA’s Global Classrooms program bringing Model UN to inner-city youth and understand the educational and social missions of Model UN.

  • RDK

    Kevin I really appreciate your sharing the philosophy behind this and reflecting on how the ranking went this year with various perspectives in mind. I was initially ambivalent about the whole thing but I look forward to seeing how you guys will revamp it next year

    • KFC

      Thank you!

  • Amy

    Hey KFC (and hi, Teddy! long time no see!),

    I think that encouraging larger delegations is a positive step just as collecting a large sample size for a scientific experiment increases the accuracy of its results. In order to effectively ascertain the skill level of a given team, it’s necessary to look beyond the skill level of the few fantastic members that gavel over and over again. That’s where the emphasis on larger delegations comes in.

    HOWEVER, depending on the conference, bringing a large delegation is absolutely idiotic. For example, my team perennially sends a large team to McMUN in Montreal. While we all have a great time and come together as a team, the fact still remains that in the 3-4 enormous, cash-cow GAs, we have upwards of 6-7 two-delegate teams competing head to head against each other for fewer awards. This necessarily creates an internal team hierarchy among delegates competing against each other from the same school: some come out winning, and some end up playing little more than a supporting role, bolstering the profile of the better-placed delegation.

    How can this be a positive step in Model UN? If anything, it encourages the back-bencher attitude that is so frustrating for those who debate earnestly in larger committees. With so many delegations from the same team packed into too few committees, there is little opportunity for each delegate to engage and learn, much less have fun in committee. Is it any wonder so many GA delegates skip committee sessions (especially at college conferences)? They feel irrelevant.

    I’ve heard about a formula being bandied about that seems pretty fair, setting a percentage of weighting on the win ratio, and the rest on total award count. I think that focusing solely on encouraging large delegations, without attention to what that does for committee quality and engagement. Points from earlier commenters regarding school size, travel concerns, etc. are also very much worth considering, but this is just a different aspect I wanted to highlight.

    • KFC

      I don’t have a great answer to that issue, but I do know that some teams purposely pair an advanced delegate with a novice one (or a 4th year with a 2nd year) to create non-hierarchical teams in these double delegation large committees (e.g. assignments for say, France, Thailand, and Burundi are all evenly distributed in terms of delegate strength). The problem exists that they’re still competing against each other, but now it’s more even and with incentive for the experienced delegate to teach the newer one and the newer one to learn quickly from the experienced one.

  • Amy

    *”I think that focusing solely on encouraging large delegations, without attention to what that does for committee quality and engagement”…is a poor idea. Sorry for losing the train of thought, there.

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  • JC

    Hi BD, As I mentioned in a previous post I do feel that ranking conferences by size as a measure of competitiveness is flawed. While a larger number of students does mean it is more difficult to win awards by the numbers, this incentivises schools to attends conferences that are large but may provide limited educational value for students. As such, for schools to be represented on your list they will have to sacrifice that value, which defeats the purpose of Model UN. Is the point if MUN to be competitive, like debate or forensics? Or is it to learn about the world and to derive educational value for all participating students?

    • KFC

      Agreed on the fact that size should not be the only factor in weighting a conference. Numerous readers have brought this up already and several have provided constructive changes to the methodology in some of the other comments threads. Size will still be an important factor though — it’s an easily obtainable, standard and objective metric.

      The point of MUN is to derive educational value for all participating students, but students do learn through competition — any conference that gives awards values competition to some degree.

      I would also agree that large conferences may not necessarily provide the best educational value, but I would also argue that smaller conferences may not either. Size alone does not determine educational value.

      • Arun

        There certainly should be other factors than size when determining the weight of a conference. While educational value is important for a conference, I was under the impression that the weightings for the rankings were done based on an assessment of the competitiveness of the conference. Educational value is a very subjective measure, and may not really correlate with competitiveness (although I want to believe that the more competitive conferences are also the most substantively strong ones as well).

        One aspect to consider for your methodology, now that you have a first round of rankings is to consider how many top tier schools attend a conference. For example, a large conference that very few top 5 or top 10 schools go to should receive less weight (for competitiveness) than a smaller conference that several teams of the top 5 or top 10 go to. It would be somewhat recursive and potentially self-reinforcing but having traveled extensively on the college circuit, I have felt that having other very competitive schools attend a conference make it more competitive than simply being a large conference.

        Also for your awards calculations, I know a few colleges have been experimenting with a weighted system between award percentage and total awards won, and they have been having some success with the formula. You should contact some of these schools to see what formulas they use and see if any of them can be imported into your analyses.

        • KFC

          Yes, the weightings were meant to assess competitiveness, not educational value. I think the original comment referred to the purpose of Model UN itself (i.e. should we be focusing on competitiveness or educational value in Model UN).

          I’m surprised you’re the first college delegate to suggest weighting by number of top teams attending. This was perhaps the biggest ask from high school delegates, especially the strong schools in the Northeast that could reinforce all their peers’ weightings as they all attend the same conferences.

  • Katie Boland

    Is there a way to get a list of all High School Model UN Conferences by dates? That might be a GREAT resource for teachers/advisors. I have not found a good compilation that includes all conferences, both small and big. Competitive top ones and little smaller ones like UConn’s conference.

    The list doesn’t have to be definite – perhaps just conferences by each month so that advisors and delegates could research and see if it’s a possibility to attend. Most high schools plan out their year in June or August for the entire school year.

    Just an idea!

    • KFC

      Yes, we’re working on that!

  • Katie Boland

    Another database – listserve type thing you might want to consider for the future:

    How about a database of Model UN Clubs per state? That might be too large to create, but could be something that interns could work on for each region. You can have a link to advisors so we can connect, etc.

    I am asking for this for one major reason – my students at Trumbull High School are hosting a Model UN Invitational (TMUNI for short) on Tuesday, May 24th from 3:45 to 8:00pm. We’ll have two committee sessions, dinner break, and awards – just like at real conferences. I have spent the last several days searching school websites around the area to see if they have a Model UN Club and then finding their advisors/emails on the website and sending them an invitation.

    These after-school mini conferences would be a great way for schools to develop their Model UN Programs, students to interact together, and student leaders to actually chair committee meetings. It’s a win-win for everyone – but really hard to organize without a database.

    So that’s my wish list — and can you please start with Connecticut 🙂 We did win the NCAA basketball tournament, that should give us a lead, right?

    • KFC

      Good idea! Thank you!

  • R. Timberlake

    As stated before the awrds are out of wack. They are way to few, for so many who are truly involved. Keep the tiered system but increase awards. Most large committes have 3 best delegates, Outstanding more than likely 7 – 10 and Commendable / Honorable is 10 – 15. Small committees 2 Best, 5 Outstanding and up to 7 Commendable would be great. BTW verbal commendations are so sad, what does it take to print another piece of paper ??? It is very cruel to have some kid stand up and get a smattering of appluase. This kind of recognition is inappropriate, if they can say your name they can shake your hand and give you a piece of paper. It wont break the budget. Many advisors have talked and agree with this 100%. Many are ready to start voting with their feet and wallets to find a well ran conference that comprehends what the attendees / customers want. Food for thought.

  • Teddy

    I am sorry, but if I ever were to receive a gavel with 2 other delegates, I would not take the time to pick up the award. And 5 outstanding countries? 7 commendables? It’s like just handing out participation awards. No thank you.

    • JB

      Teddy,

      Really? You wouldn’t pick up a gavel that you spent endless hours working hard for at a conference perhaps weeks preparing for just because you cannot stand the idea of someone else in your 150 delegate committee workings as hard as you and deserving similar recognition? Now I know that you probably have won every single committee you’ve been in. But for those of us that have spent tremendous efforts competing and gotten outstandings, we can’t help but think that in massive committees with a ridiculously small chair-to-delegate ratio where your position on a speakers’ list can be the deciding factor, it may be more than a little silly to think that there will always be one single clear-cut best delegate.

      It’s still a competition on the team level, it just rewards the hard work of more delegates. Winning an award at an MUN conference should not be such an unattainable thing. It’s an educational experience first and foremost, a competition second, and it doesn’t make sense to think that a 100 delegate committee contains only 1 gavel, 3 outstaindings, and 4 commendations worth of award worthy efforts with 92% leaving with no tangible recognition of how much they learned and how hard they worked. I’m not saying everyone should win awards. But think about how many more delegates would be more engaged, more thoughtful, and more motivated if they knew that they had better than a 10% chance of winning something. Awards in MUN, at their core, are supposed to be about motivating and inspiring delegates to work hard and get as much out of the experience as possible, and rewarding that hard work and dedication when it arises. More of that cannot be a bad thing.

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