ChoMUN Featured Series: The UChicago Crisis Tree Model

by kbonn on April 14, 2014

This guest article was written by Apratim Gautam, one of the Head Delegates of the University of Chicago travel team and the Coordinating Crisis Director of the JCC: Ching Shih’s Pirate Fleet vs. the Qing Dynasty 1808 at ChoMUN XVII.

Why Crisis Trees?

University of Chicago Head Delegates Nisha Bala, Eric Wessan, and Apratim Gautam are all smiles with their Best Large Delegation award at HNMUN 2014.

University of Chicago Head Delegates Nisha Bala, Eric Wessan, and Apratim Gautam are all smiles with their Best Large Delegation award at HNMUN 2014.

It is one week to ChoMUN. The staff is excited, the placards are being printed, the gavels are in and ChoSec even have their call signs. There’s no going back now. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s rewind to 4 months ago, when I, along with the rest of the ChoMUN executives were working to formulate our crisis trees. Just how do we go about that process, the process that literally makes or breaks conference? And just how important are crisis trees?

Wait, What is a Crisis Tree?

Ah, glad I caught you here first. A crisis tree is a web of ideas that anticipate potential delegate actions along with a staff’s own ideas on the direction of the committee.

The Primacy of Delegates

Let’s start with the importance of crisis trees. The answer is: not as important as the delegates. Certainly the approach to planning crises I was taught when I first started at UChicago was to primarily value what the delegates are trying to accomplish. Crisis trees guide, they suggest, they challenge and they provide our initial path into the conference. Above all, though, our crisis trees are expendable.

Cut back to a year ago, and my first time chairing a committee on the college circuit. Along with my Crisis Director, Jesse Orr, current ChoMUN Chief of Staff, we ran Rajiv Gandhi’s Cabinet 1987. In our second session, our backroom received a note so cunning and so well thought out that Jesse literally ripped up our crisis tree and started again (Note: the ripping was more due to Jesse’s penchant for dramatics; ripping crisis trees is generally not taught to new executives). Ultimately though, that’s what ChoMUN is about: running with delegate ideas, as much as it is providing our own challenges. If we receive a compelling enough reason, we’re happy to run with that. Compelling, though, is the key modifier in that sentence.

Delegates from Rajiv Gandhi's cabinet debate important issues at ChoMUN XVI.

Delegates from Rajiv Gandhi’s cabinet debate important issues at ChoMUN XVI.

Writing Trees

You may wonder, with that in mind, what is the point in writing crisis trees, if we are willing to abandon them given sufficient reason? That leads back to our first question: How do we go about writing crisis trees? For me, personally, it helps to also be a delegate. Putting myself in the shoes of my delegates helps me understand how they might react to certain crisis ideas. Creativity is prime, but that’s not to say you can’t learn from other crisis directors on the circuit. For instance, I was on the McMUN Ad-Hoc this year, which is the first time I got to see a timed crisis first hand. Actually competing on a committee with a timed crisis definitely helped me understand how to best use one at some point in the future.

The trickier balance to strike is knowing when to push through certain ideas and crisis trees, even if the delegates don’t want to do it. Much like being a delegate, sometimes persistence is key. Crisis rooms have general arcs; narratives they want the five sessions to follow. Deviating from them is absolutely normal, while sticking to them rigidly can feel unnatural. At times, though, we have to do the latter because we’re trying to get the committee to a really interesting place. The challenge for both the staffers and the delegates is to understand where the give and take must occur.

Writing trees themselves can’t actually begin until the background guides are written, and with good reason. Fanciful, intricate ideas cannot be enacted without the requisite amount of research to account for historical idiosyncrasies, or for how various characters on the committee themselves would react. Crisis trees also tend to be drawn up involving all of the staff, not just executives. This definitely makes for a messier process, but it gives Assistant Chairs a greater understanding of the committee, and ultimately more responsibility, which will probably make them better executives in the future. There’s a reason, for example, why two of my fellow executives on the JCC at ChoMUN this year were staffers of Jesse and mine last year (Shout out to Raghav Sawhney and Ahon Sarkar, and while I’m at it Tyler Leslie and Dhrooti Vyas, the rest of the JCC).

The Break

Writing a tree, though, is only half the battle. The other half is in the break: how are we going to communicate updates to the delegates? Training is key: preparing staff for dramatic speeches, prepping videos, writing updates and finding angry mobs are most of what goes on in the back room in this regard. Without a successful break, the crisis trees themselves are purely academic. Thus, a great deal of training time is given to staffers doing speech drills, as well as replying to notes and writing updates.

Delegates from Apratim's committee at MUNUC 2014.

Delegates from Apratim’s committee at MUNUC 2014.

Ultimately a tree is comprised of more than just our initial plans. It must incorporate directives, notes, our updates, our initial plans, our ideas in the background guide and, of course, the delegates themselves. It is likely better to think of a crisis tree as describing a two-way relationship between the delegates and the staff. Like any kind of relationship, communication is key. Both delegates and staffers responding to one another makes for the most fun, challenging committees.

Crisis trees are designed primarily to challenge delegates, to make them as fun as possible both for staffers and delegates, whilst still trying to be creative. The other day, one of my staffers asked me if I hated being surprised by the action of delegates. My answer? Nope. I love being surprised by delegates’ creative ideas. Surprise me, surprise ChoMUN: try something interesting or innovative and see how far we are willing to run with it.

If nothing else, delegates, you should expect to be surprised. After a year of work, we’re at the doorstep of ChoMUN. Be excited; we’re excited to have you.

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