How to Win Best Delegate, Part 6: Research Your Country

by Ryan on December 26, 2007

There are two things you want to research about your country: the basics and the relevant. First, develop a holistic impression of your country by collecting general information. Then, determine what specific actions your country has taken on the topic, particularly policies and positions.

Basic information about your country may not be crucial to what you do in committee, but it is so elementary to your role as an ambassador that it should not be neglected. Knowing basic information will also save you from embarrassment if someone asks you a question like “Where is your country?” and “How large is your population?”

To find basic information on your country, start with the CIA World Factbook. It was the first resource I ever used for MUN research and I still use it. There’s a lot of information on every country, but personally I look for a few things in particular:

1. Geography – Examine the map. Figure out where your country actually is and determine your neighbors.
2. History – Read the introduction, which concisely gives you some idea of your country’s history.
3. Population – Under the section entitled “People,” note population size.
4. Trade Partners – Under “Economy,” look at exports and imports. This may seem random, but trade partner generally equals ally, meaning these are the delegates you should meet during the first unmoderated caucus.

Each page contains a bunch of facts, so why did I choose these in particular? Honestly, it comes down to personal preference. Knowing 1, 2, and 3 gives me a good feel of the country I’m representing. Someone else, however, might want to know more about their country’s government and politics. I’ll expand on this concept later, but you should research as much as you need to feel comfortable representing your country.

There are a bunch of websites out there on a country’s background information. I used to go to for more detailed information. I even went to Human Rights Watch for more background information because their reports cover many subjects. Having this extra information on hand made me feel very knowledgeable about my country, but I found that it hardly ever came up, so I stopped. Again, do what you need to do to feel comfortable.

After researching background information on your country, look up current events. You’re not looking for anything in particular; you just want to know what’s going on in the country you’re supposed to be representing.

By far, the best website for this is Yahoo! News Full Coverage. Go to Google (ironically) and type “yahoo news full coverage [country name]” to find your page. These Full Coverage pages feature links to news stories, wire stories, articles, and editorials, not to mention government websites and other popular independent sources.

When you’re done with basic information, then it’s time to move onto the real meat of your research, the information about your country that is most relevant to your topic.

Your goal is find primary sources that lay out your country’s policy, programs, and past actions related to the issue. Primary sources, like speeches or government websites, are particularly important because no one can rightfully accuse you of going off policy if you are directly quoting your government.

If a lack of information exists on your country, though, then you may need to rely on secondary sources, such as magazines and think tanks. The upside is that most likely no one will call you out in committee because they won’t know anything either. In this case, you have more leeway to make inferences and be flexible in what you say and the policies you advocate.

Start with your government’s website and look for speeches from your head of state (President or Prime Minister) relating to the topic. If that doesn’t work, look for speeches by other government officials, or parts of the government website devoted to your topic. Your Ministry of Foreign Affairs website might be more helpful than the general government website. And be mindful of dates; quoting your government directly won’t do you any good if the information is outdated.

Don’t be dismayed if you can’t find this information easily. More often than not, you will be hard pressed to find something ideal; not all governments update their websites. In reality, your government might not even care about the topic you’re discussing. It might just advocate a certain policy in order to avoid possible embarrassment.

You, however, are better than that; you’re an MUNer. And, you’re trying to win Best Delegate! So if policy information is lacking, you need to start “making it up.” Go back through your research on the topic itself and your country’s background information. You need to put two and two together and figure out what your country believes.

The key to doing so is determining your national interests. What is important to your country? Broadly speaking, it is usually security and economy. How will international action on the topic impact those interests? Answering these questions will help you figure out your policy; governments pursue their interests. Heck, that’s just human nature (which is the foundation for the realist school of political thought).

Trade partners and regional organizations are huge hints. If your country depends heavily on trade with, say, the US, then most likely it will not adopt policies contrary to American interests unless it really needs to. In this case, figure out US policy on the topic, and adopt, or amend it, as your own. If your country is part of the African Union and the topic affects the entire African continent, then look up AU policy on the topic. This is why caucus blocs and alliances exist; mutual interests bring different countries together.

  • sugandha mahajan

    Dear Ryan,
    Thanks for these blogs which are proving as a great help in my preparation for MUN. I appreciate your efforts and the fact that you have so thoroughly described nuances of MUN. However, I have a query to ask. How should I give my preferences for country selection? What should be the criteria and strategy I must undertake to make the right choice for country preferences.
    For eg. In a topic like ” Addressing global and social implications of the global debt crisis” for the committee ECOSOC.
    If you colud advice me on this, it would be a great help.
    and please keep blogging 🙂

  • Ryan

    Thanks Sugandha! This is a good question that deserves its own post, but I have a couple initial thoughts on country preferences.

    Firstly, what are your goals? Is it to win awards? Or are you studying a particular country / region in your classes? Representing this country at a conference might be a cool way to integrate MUN into your studies. Also, how big and experienced is your club? And what conferences will you be attending this year?

    In general, clubs that want to win awards, particularly delegation awards, try to represent P5 countries — US, UK, France, Russia, China. These countries have the greatest representation across committees, including a guaranteed veto-wielding spot on the Security Council. But clubs need to be big enough to fill all those spots, and conference organizers expect the P5 to be the more experienced delegates in their committees.

    I’d want to know more about your topic specifically because it could be one of two topics I’m thinking of. If you’re debating the global financial crisis, i.e. what happened in 2008, then I’d want the United States because it will play a central role in that topic. If you’re debating the debt crisis, i.e. seeking debt relief for developing countries, then I’d want China, who can position itself as a champion of the developing world.

  • Rajul Jain

    Hey Ryan ,
    Thanks a lot for this blog. It provided exactly the right solutions to the problems I was facing during my research. These tips will definitely help me now in my research work.
    Thank you once again

  • Harsh

    Thanks for the article! It’s really helpful for beginners like me. However I had a question that if we have two topics and the country I prefer has a dominant role in one topic while a small role in the other, please suggest

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