How to Teach Model UN: 10 Questions to Kick Off Committee Research

by Ryan on October 13, 2011

Don't neglect your committee research; speeches and solutions only make sense in the context of your committee.

Learning about the UN might be intimidating to students and teachers who are new to Model UN. I know it was for me when I first started as a high school freshman. The UN is a sprawling organization; its website is a labyrinth of information; and learning all those acronyms is like learning a foreign language.

But as part of your research and preparation for Model UN conferences, you have to learn something about the UN, particularly your MUN committee. As a student, how do you get started? As a teacher, how do you help your students, especially if you haven’t studied the UN yourself?

Why Committee Research Matters

Most delegates know they should research their country and topics in order to prepare for Model UN conferences, but committee research is typically overlooked and underemphasized. Researching your committee should not take as much time as researching your country or topics, but it should be an integral part of your Model UN preparation for several reasons:

  • Your speeches and solutions only make sense in the context of your committee. Most delegates focus on researching and representing their individual countries, but Model UN is about making group decisions as a committee. The point of speeches and caucuses is to push the committee towards its goal of passing a resolution. To do this effectively, delegates must not only research their country and topics; they should understand their country’s role in the committee and why the committee is discussing these topics.
  • One reason to do Model UN is to learn about global problems; committee research is about what the international community is doing to solve these problems. Committee research is an opportunity to learn about the UN and other international organizations who are dedicated to solving these problems. You get to learn about their strengths and successes, as well as their weaknesses and shortcomings.
  • If you’re interested in winning awards, committee research gives you an advantage. Because it’s usually overlooked, knowing your committee’s history, purpose, and power enables you to demonstrate authority during speeches and caucuses, and especially when negotiating resolutions. Citing relevant details about your committee can also impress your chair, who most likely expects you to be an expert on your country and topics, but not necessarily your committee.
  • Model UN is a simulation of not just the UN and other international organizations, but their individual decision-making bodies, e.g. committees. To be an effective participant in this simulation — to be a good delegate — you should know know why your committee is discussing your topics in the first place and what your committee is expected to do about them.

How to Research Your Committee

Good research begins with good questions. In my last post, I offered a “Country Profile” with a list of questions to guide your country research. Shown below is a “Committee Profile” — 10 questions that are meant to be a starting point for your committee research. (Also available in Word and PDF.)

Purpose

1. What is the full name of your committee?

2. Why was your committee founded? When was it founded?

Powers

3. What document established your committee?

4. What are your committee’s powers?

Membership

5. How many members does your committee have? Who are the current members of your committee?

6. How is membership determined in your committee? How long does membership last?

Procedure

7. When does your committee meet?

8. How does voting work in your committee?

Structure

9. Does your committee report up to another committee? Does your committee have sub-committees?

10. How would you describe your committee’s role in the United Nations system?

The best place to find answers to most of these questions is your committee’s official website. You can do a Google search for it or check out this page on “United Nations Structure and Organization” from the UN official website. Also, here are links to official websites for some of the more popular committees in Model UN:

General Assembly

Economic and Social
Specialized Agencies and Other

It might also help to become familiar with how the UN is structured. The UN has 6 “principal organs” — the General Assembly, Security Council, Economic and Social Council, International Court of Justice, Secretariat, and Trusteeship Council (which no longer meets) — and committees generally fall under or work with one of these organs. Check out this UN system chart for more information.

Beyond your committee’s official website, you can explore the UN website. Most committees have their own page on Wikipedia, but that should serve only as a starting point, not your only source of information. More Google searching should lead to non-profits and think tanks that study your committee. A robust background guide should also have information on your committee.

And thanks to the advent of social media, here’s a new way to do research: ask a question in the comments below!

Example Committee Profile: The UN Security Council

Here’s an example committee profile I put together on the Security Council, which was my favorite committee when I was a student.

  • Purpose: The United Nations Security Council was founded in 1945 as an integral part of the UN itself. Chapter V of the UN Charter established the Security Council in order to fulfill the organization’s primary purpose: the maintenance of “international peace and security.”
  • Powers: Chapters VI through VIII of the Charter describe the Security Council’s powers. This includes investigating disputes and calling for peace talks (Ch. VI), authorizing the use of force (Ch. VII), and referring conflicts to regional organizations (Ch. VIII). But of all its powers, the Security Council is perhaps most famously known for establishing peacekeeping operations, although this was not originally envisioned when the Charter was written; Secretary-General Dag Hammarsjkold joked that peacekeeping fell under “Chapter Six-and-a-half.”
  • Membership: The Security Council has 15 members. 5 of the members have permanent seats, and the other 10 members serve 2-year terms — they are called non-permanent members. The permanent members are: US, UK, France, China, and Russia; the non-permanent members are: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, Portugal, Brazil, India, South Africa, Colombia, Lebanon, Gabon, and Nigeria. Non-permanent membership is distributed geographically, with 5 members coming from Africa and Asia, 2 members from Latin America, 1 member from Eastern Europe, and 2 members from Western Europe and other regions. Under Articles 31 and 32 of the Charter, non-Security Council members and non-member states may be invited to participate in discussion. In 1992, Ambassador Diego Arria of Venezuela organized informal meetings with individuals and members of civil society out of the Security Council chamber; these are called “Arria Formula” meetings to this day.
  • Procedure: Per Article 28, the Security Council meets continuously. Each member has one vote. Nine “affirmative votes” are required to pass decisions on procedural matters. However, “all other matters,” i.e. resolutions, require not only nine affirmative votes, but also that none of the permanent members votes “no” — this is the infamous veto power. The Security Council has a president who leads meetings; “The presidency of the Security Council shall be held in turn by the members of the Security Council in the English alphabetical order of their names. Each President shall hold office for one calendar month.”
  • Structure: The Security Council is a principal organ of the UN and it has various sub-committees and groups that report up to it, including the various peacekeeping operations and the tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. The Security Council plays a stabilizing role within the UN and the international system: the prevention and settlement of disputes between and within states reduces systemic conflict; decreased conflict enables increased cooperation towards the international community’s goals of development and human rights; and the Security Council’s structure — i.e. the veto — ensures the cooperation of the major powers — i.e. the permanent members.

This article is part of the “How to Teach Model UN” series for students and teachers who are new to Model UN. Check out last week’s article on Country Research and this article on Current Events.

Do you have a question about committee research? Or perhaps you’d like to share one of your own tips? Leave a comment below!

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