Written by: Satya Amin
Research is a fundamental part of the Model UN experience— it determines the quality of your speeches, the depth of your clauses and most importantly, the confidence which you’re able to participate with in committee. A good binder will invariably enable you to partake in debate more effectively, bolstering your chances of succeeding as a delegate.
This article will aim to provide a little insight on how best to set up your research, and highlight some measures that can be taken to use it effectively in committee. Mind you, this guide is neither definitive nor is it exhaustive— every delegate has a different style in committee, and different techniques work for different delegates. There are those who can work with a couple of pages worth of handwritten notes, and those who like to operate with 100-page binders crammed with colour-coded sticky notes. The individual merits and demerits of every approach will vary from person to person.
- Grasping the agenda
Once you’ve received your agenda and country allotment, the first task at hand is to understand, at a very basic level, what it is you’re dealing with. Complex and often highly abstract concepts, such as the applicability of international law in cyber warfare, for example, need to be comprehended before they can be researched.
One good place to start with this is Wikipedia. Yes, it’s true, Wikipedia receives a lot of hate in the Model UN community on account of the inherent difficulties in verifying the credibility of crowdsourced information, but you’ll often find the “introduction” section on every Wikipedia page to be a very accessible summary of the topic. Information on the site also tends to be chronological and fairly detailed, which is good for anyone trying to familiarize themselves with a topic. Personally, I find that the most useful aspect of the site is the citations— buried in the footnotes of every page are a veritable plethora of links to various reports, expert analyses, policy statements and more. As always, it’s a good idea to double-check the credibility of the source, but it is nevertheless a good way to find useful and often highly obscure documents.
Printing out your background guide is always recommended, particularly if the guide has a section pertaining to “questions a resolution must answer”. The information in your guide may also give you a general idea of the specific areas of discussion the Executive Board wants to see explored.
Maintaining a list bulleted points on your research in a notebook can also be an effective means of quickly looking up or referencing information in crunch situations, during a speech for example. Keeping track of the main points by making running notes as you go about your research also helps you keep the bigger picture in mind and helps you avoid losing track of important information and context.
- Delving Deeper & Framing the Debate
Once you are familiar with the main idea of the topic and understand the major factors at play, it’s time to begin exploring the sub-topics to the issue. Identifying these topics can be done through a variety of means, but one of the most effective is to simply make a list.
For example, the issue of the civil war in Yemen can be viewed from different angles, such as:
The list above is not exhaustive, but what’s important to notice is that researching the topic from those different perspectives will give you a variety of ways to approach solutions to the different problems created by the conflict. Once you’ve been able to design solutions to the various problems posed by the issue by examining the different approaches, the sub-topics can be framed as moderated caucus topics. This is called “framing debate”, and it’s an excellent way to steer debate to areas you’ve researched extensively. More importantly, when it comes to examining sub-topics, delegates in committees sometimes incline towards to exhaustively describing, for example, the consequences of the civil war on Yemen’s economic problems Researching sub-topic based solutions allows you to propose economic and reform-based solutions that directly address those consequences, rather than simply describing the problem at length. Statistics and factoids are always useful to keep with your research, but utilizing them effectively during debate is of greater importance. Using statistics to help support your argument if very different from simply reciting them to illustrate to the committee how acute a particular problem is. Finally, ensure your research enables you to speak in a diverse range of moderated caucuses. Often, the topics you would like to see discussed simply are not what the committee wants to deliberate.
- Building your fortress
It is never a good idea to walk into committee without being aware of basic information regarding your country’s Government, political institutions, economic situation and other general information. On controversial issues where your position is likely to be attacked, try to dedicate a significant amount of research to establishing a defense. A good way to approach this is to read statements by your country’s government explaining their stance. Examine any treaties or documents which the Government has cited as evidence for their case. Using precedent cases in international law is also an excellent way to build a solid defense. It is true that defending an unfavorable case is not an easy task, but the satisfaction of shooting down every challenge to your country offers a certain satisfaction, not to mention a more favorable impression in the eyes of the Chairperson. On certain agendas, it is advisable to come prepared with ammunition against countries likely to target your position. While mud-slinging and other displays of hostile international relations do little to aid the progress of the committee, they are often required to retain credibility and control in the room.