Welcome to Moderated Caucus, a new series from Best Delegate examining the questions that keep delegates, chairs and secretariats up at night. Should closing ceremonies have guest speakers? Does crisis actually count as MUN? How do you explain to your non-MUN friends what you’re doing in a suit on a Saturday?
This week we’re tackling a MUN convention: multiple topics. Is allowing delegates to choose what they debate liberating or create unnecessary work for chairs and delegates alike?
Juan Martín is majoring in government and international relations at Universidad Externado de Colombia. He’s 21 years old, born in Cali, Colombia, and has been participating in MUNs since 2010.
Before making my argument in favour of having two topics, I must recognise one point: it’s true that, usually, whichever topic is chosen first will take over most, if not all, the time at a conference. That’s not always a negative thing, personally, I like to think that this gives an opportunity to the delegates to choose what goes into the agenda, and what doesn’t.
And that’s when having two topics becomes a huge safeguard for conferences, to guarantee the best experience possible for the delegates. I recall my last time as chair, when we had this topic we thought was amazing, and a second topic that we believed to be more of a “filler”. But, when the conference started, the vote for the topics was so tight, we had to vote by roll-call! And let’s remember this: conferences are for the delegates, and giving them the option to choose which topic they’ll like to work on more, will provide them with a better experience.
In addition, setting two topics prints a bit of realism of what really happens in every international scenario. When the international agenda is set, there’s always topics that are left out, even though some states would like to discuss them. Most of the time, this responds to political reasons or is just a matter of convenience to the states present.
Also, for the dais, multiple topics eases the always difficult labour of evaluating delegates. First, it gives a great early-phase chance for delegates to prove their negotiation skills. Their skill to lead the setting of the agenda, through messages or an unmoderated caucus, is clearly shown to the dias and provides a huge input.
Furthermore, in the case the two topics are debated, it can reorder the political advantage certain delegate may have thanks to the topic chosen. Having a topic that rearranges the alliances made in the first topic is a great way to challenge delegates, testing their negotiation skills. This can also be useful in case there are important absences that may harm debate, and keep certain coalitions in a comfort zone. This way, evaluation is made on a deeper level, as you as a dias get more information on their performance.
At the end, you have happier delegates, as they spend more time on the topic they like the most, enriching their experience, and as a dias, you have more tools to evaluate properly every delegate. Additionally, you’re able to recreate the real experience of the setting of the agenda, where there are clear winners and losers.
Sam Povey is a member of Best Delegate’s Media Team and a former student of the London School of Economics. He is 21, from Aberdeen, and has been participating in MUN since 2010.
Every delegate is familiar with the ritual of setting the agenda but few question why it has become standard for committees to consider multiple topics. From my experience, as both a delegate and a chair, multiple topics impair debate, discourage delegates and create unnecessary work for all.
Let’s start with chairs, whose principle pre-conference duty is to produce a study guide. Of course, multiple topics means multiple study guides. That means less care and attention spent on each topic, resulting in worse study guides. Indeed, delegates will be all too familiar with study guides riddled with grammatical mistakes, poor formatting and factual inaccuracies.
It would be wrong to claim that focusing on a single topic would solve these problems (much like the international community, chairs will always leave the important tasks until the very last minute), but it is hard to doubt allowing chairs to focus on a single topic will result in better researched and more detailed study guides.
Multiple topics have the greatest effect on delegates, however. Two topics mean packing twice as much research into an already busy student life. Alternatively, some delegates chose to focus on one topic and hope that it is selected by the committee. As a result, delegates are less informed, having either chosen a single topic or spreading their efforts thinly.
Worst of all, topic selection often discourages delegates from participating in debate. Setting the agenda is one of the most important moments of a committee: whichever topic is chosen will absorb you and yours colleagues’ lives for the coming weekend. Given the short timeframe of conferences, the losing topic is unceremoniously binned.
Experienced delegates can soldier on, but for the delegate of Armenia, who staked his hopes of relevancy on “Topic B: Improving Trans-Caucus Energy Cooperation” having the “wrong” topic chosen can be devastating.
Instead of multiple topics, I propose a radical solution: the single topic committee (*gasp*). I believe that when you travel across a country (or even a continent) to attend a conference, you should know for certain what you will be discussing upon arrival. I believe that we shouldn’t allow the first 15 minutes of committee determine the remaining 48 hours of a conference. And I believe that there is little sense in compelling chairs and delegates to prepare topics, in full knowledge that their hard work will come to nothing in a 23 for, 22 against vote.