The inaugural session of the Brainwiz MUN Forum was held on the 11th and 12th of April at the American Centre New, Delhi with an aim of solving fully, or at least in part, the various problems and issues that surround the popular extra curricular activity Model UN in India. Recognizing the fact that over the past decade the number of MUN conferences has grown exponentially and also the inconsistency in the quality that has subsequently arisen, the forum worked to achieve the vision of the overall improvement of the quality of MUNs in India by deliberations and consensus-building to decide upon the best practices in order to make a real difference in the circuit.
The opening ceremony began with enlightening addresses from the Convener and the President of the Forum, both of whom acknowledged the disparities in the MUNs today and the need for reforms while expressing hope to improve the experience for everyone participating in MUNs all over again. It was followed by words of wisdom from Mr. Walter Douglas, Counselor for Public Affairs at the American Embassy, who talked about his experiences in the actual United Nations Committees and how the power play works out in those committees. He also mentioned how the skills of negotiation and conviction developed at Model UNs are useful in any field that the students might want to excel in. The opening ceremony concluded with a video-conference with Prof. Derek Hulme who is a professor and an author of political science and also the coach of the MUN Team of the Alma College, Michigan. Professor Hulme talked about the vitality of these conferences by giving examples of his students who has excelled greatly taking inspiration from the concept, and also entertained numerous relevant questions regarding Model UN from the participants of the forum.
The Forum was structured in such a way that it had simultaneous discussions in two separate committees for the Schools and Colleges respectively. The School Committee saw participation from senior teacher advisors for Model UNs of various reputed schools in Delhi and numerous other cities in the nation. The College Committee, on the other hand, saw participation from some of the most reputed college-level conferences and Societies and Organizations involved with MUN in India through experienced seniors from the Indian Model UN Circuit.
The Members of the School Committee began their deliberations by adopting their first agenda as Common Rules of Procedure for all Conferences. The members discussed how having varied Rules of Procedure across different conferences, rather different Chairpersons, can lead to a lot of confusion for the delegates and how it may be difficult for younger delegates to adapt to these deviations especially when Chairs exercise too much discretion. The committee deduced upon the fact that it is mostly the Executive Board that tweaks the rules according to their own convenience and that it is the responsibility of the secretariat to use standard rules and to declare the same before the commencement of the committee, if and how they wish to deviate from the rules. The members also suggested that the secretariat and the faculty advisors for the conferences should keep a close check on the Executive Board for compliance to the set rules, stressing upon the need of a Political Affairs Team or an Ethics Board which may be set up for this purpose and that the delegates might also be trained to adapt to some common deviations that may occur.
The Second Agenda discussed by the committee was about Internal Simulations and trainings of the delegates, which saw recognition of the common purposes that these mock sessions might serve, including selections and classification, internal competitions, and training for specific and unconventional committees including crisis committees, historic simulations and specialized agencies. The committee reached consensus regarding the formats of substantive trainings which, they feel, should entail open-discussions, quizzes, research workshops and teacher orientations. The committee also expressed the need for establishing a common pool of background guides and research material so as to aid research.
The third agenda for discussion was regarding the Social Events at MUNs like the delegate dinners or dances. The discussion for this agenda started with a recognition of inappropriate behavior that is prevalent in such events and how these socials might lead to a shift in focus from the actual purposes of a Model UN conference. Alternate opinions stated how these events provide a chance for lobbying and a much-needed relaxation after days of heated debate. The committee felt that it is best to have these events after the conclusion of the committee’s debate, i.e. after the 3rd day of the conference, and that the organizers should take care that these events are held in good taste by taking necessary precautions to prevent inappropriate behavior.
The fourth topic of discussion was regarding the Position Papers and the committee seemed to be in a consensus regarding the essentiality of the position papers and how this practice should remain intact, considering it helps the delegates in the initial research seeing how most conferences were doing away with position papers. However, the question as to how to award the position papers, whether in terms of a separate award or only in terms of the judging criteria for the conventional best delegate awards, could not reach a clear consensus.
The fifth agenda that the committee addressed was regarding the accountability of the Executive Board in the performance of their duties whether in terms of setting the agenda, making the Background Guide, adhering to the disciplinary and procedural rules and being fair while deciding the awards. The members of the committee felt it is better if the Executive Board sets the agenda in consultation with the Secretariat and that the Executive Board should be made to sign an undertaking, a violation of which may entail various penalties. The committee also agreed that the Executive Board shall before the beginning of the committee brief the delegates about the judging criteria and entertain their substantive enquires, and shall during the days of the conference not indulge in in-disciplinary activities or be biased or intimidating towards the delegates. Post-conference, the Executive board should be made to give a constructive feedback to the delegates and a Politics Affairs Team should monitor the Executive Boards performance.
The final agenda was regarding the individual registrations at the conferences. The members felt that students that did not meet the internal selection criteria may apply individually but the school shall not be liable for any acts of such delegates. Over the span of the two days, the school committee also had two videoconferences, with the Secretariat of the Ivy League Model United Nations India, which is set to be held in October of this year and Philine from the United Nations Youth Associations Network of Europe.
The recommendation document was drafted by the executive board of the school committee on the basis of the deliberations and consensus reached by the members and 6 Standing Committees were set up for each of the topics discussed and an additional one for making a MUN Calendar for all the school conferences in the nation. Each standing committee consists of 2-3 members who have taken over the responsibility to draw up a plan of action for the achievement of the solutions discussed and coordinate the activities regarding the same. A timeline was also drawn up by the President of the Conference for the working of the standing committees.
The college committee was privileged to be presided over by Mr. Peter Vrooman, Spokesperson of the American Embassy, and it discussed two pertinent issues of clashing of dates of different conferences and the accountability and responsibilities of the organizers, executive board, delegates and press at conferences.
The discussion of the former agenda saw concerns being raised regarding withdrawals and quality of debate in case the dates of two conferences clash. It was also noted that around 416 conferences took place in the country in 2012 and clashing of dates of various conferences in the same region has affected the quality of the conferences negatively. The members also recognized that dates that are set also entail logistical and administrative concerns, which might make it difficult to shift dates. After the discussion of the implications of such a clash, the possible solutions suggested included inculcating the practice of early announcement of dates and applications while also maintain a centralized database of all the conferences. Proposals were given for setting up a new MUN calendar by any society, that may wish to do so, which can be regionally divided for better coordination, and the dates on which can be reserved on a first-come-first-serve basis.
The latter agenda saw heated debate and the committee identified the problems of lack of a clear timeframe for applications, lack of adherence to deadlines by the executive board, lack of structure and coordination in the organizing committee and depleting role of the international press at conferences. The members also voiced their issues concerning biasedness of the chairpersons at many instances due to the lack of objective judgment criteria, inconsistency in remunerations and absenteeism. The members of the college committee came up with numerous solutions including specifying remuneration amount in the formal letter of appointment, making a detailed conference structure and timeline to be followed with adequate compliance mechanisms, beefing up the role of the Organizing Committee for them to act as a deterrent and to have an elaborate selection procedure for the executive board which may include group discussions, interviews and submission of background guides etc. The members on the second day reached consensus regarding these proposals and drafted comprehensive and detailed guides on the role of international press and on how to organize a conference, which will be made available and public shortly for anyone’s perusal.
Looking at the vast range of issues discussed, deliberations entailed and consensus built, the MUN Forum can be considered a blooming success but at the same time it was realized that more such meetings need to take place and necessary follow-up action must be taken in order to ensure that the recommendations reach out to the different conference organizers across the country.
For more details, please visit http://munforum.brainwiz.in/