Best Delegate will not be publishing rankings for the North American High School Model UN community this year. However, we will still be recognizing teams for their success and the Media team is currently reaching out to conferences for awards information. Rankings have been both highly popular and controversial, but after careful consideration of its impact on our values, the community, and its teams, we have decided that another form of recognition will be healthier and more appropriate for Model UN.
Why is Best Delegate Moving Away From Rankings?
The purpose of the rankings was to recognize success. Back in March 2011, Ryan and I were teaching a year-long class on international relations at a public high school and during our prep period, we remarked how we had visited many high school and college conferences around North America that year and had aggregated a lot of awards data in the process. We brainstormed how we could publish this data in a useful way that would be beneficial to the community and we came up with the idea to recognize programs that had both quality and quantity — they were the best at preparing their students, and they gave more students more opportunities to participate at conferences. These were the programs that we thought were the most successful. With that definition of success in mind, we decided to create a rankings methodology (called “Standings” when it first came out until readers kept referring to them as “Rankings”) that aggregated awards across all conferences.
However, rankings are no longer the best medium to serve that purpose because of the following reasons that impact our values, the community, and its teams.
1. Rankings take away from our educational mission.
The mission of Best Delegate is to help Model United Nations participants succeed in the activity. Of course, there are many definitions of success. Here at Best Delegate, we believe that the best education for a participant who wants to be prepared to interact with a wide range of people and solve a wide range of problems is to experience a wide range of definitions of success. We also believe that these definitions of success, such as winning awards through top-notch competition or receiving education through a valuable experience, are not always mutually exclusive.
Awards have existed in Model UN long before the creation of this website and is only one definition of success. We primarily promote this definition of success twice a year (Fall and Final rankings), but it gets disproportionate attention at the expense of all the other content that we put out. Some participants therefore only associate Best Delegate with rankings when it is in fact not the focus of the vast majority of our work.
This has led to cognitive dissonance as Best Delegate has grown to become a global organization. For example, Best Delegate provides training for THIMUN-affiliated groups and in partnership with the United Nations Department of Public Information. Neither organization emphasizes awards; THIMUN does not give out any awards. It is important for Best Delegate to be able to offer educational programs without them being associated with a focus on competition.
2. Rankings have produced the negative effect of making the activity too competitive and too focused on rankings.
Head delegates and faculty advisors from schools throughout the United States and Canada have brought up that the rankings are making Model UN too competitive as teams seek to get ranked for the primary purpose of getting ranked. This has become so widely known that one British student at a European conference told me that he “hates Best Delegate because it has made his MUN friends in New York only care about rankings.” Only a small minority of student-leaders have told me that the rankings have inspired them to help their team get better for the sole purpose of improvement and education, and only a small minority of faculty advisors have said that rankings have benefited Model UN without any negative consequences.
So although our intended consequence was to encourage teams to train their delegates better in research, speaking, and negotiation instead of showing up at conferences underprepared and to give their students more chances to participate at more conferences — and to get recognized for that — the actual unintended consequence is the increase of gavel-hunting delegates who use competitive, “power delegate” tactics for the primary purpose of winning awards and helping their team get ranked. Teams have also started selecting more competitive conferences for the purposes of boosting their ranking, which has negatively impacted some conferences in terms of attendance numbers and on the type of educational committee experience they wanted to create. Competition can be healthy, but that is not the current state of Model UN according to participants and rankings are doing more to hurt the activity than to help it.
Of course, getting rid of rankings does not solve the issue of competition (if that is even an issue to begin with). Competition in Model UN will always exist as long as awards exist and are limited, and awards have existed long before this website for both cultural reasons (e.g. many academic activities have been giving out awards to students since they were little kids) and economic reasons (e.g. to incentivize clubs to attend the conference and send more students). Elements of competition will always exist even if conferences do not give awards if their rules of procedure places limits on leadership opportunities instead of focusing on building consensus — for example, having one main submitter or several primary sponsors to a resolution or having voting where there are winners and losers instead of having an entire committee be part of and agree upon the same resolution as in UN4MUN procedure.
3. Some of the best teams do not want rankings.
I interact with the faculty advisors of top-25 ranked teams often since I see them at the largest conferences throughout the year. They usually provide well-rounded feedback and insight into the state of Model UN, and two comments stood out in particular.
One faculty advisor of a perennial top-10 team remarked that he tells his students not to check the rankings and not to talk about it at school. Rankings have no place in their program that emphasizes the educational side of Model UN. Another faculty advisor of a different perennial top-10 team remarked that there should not be rankings in Model UN, and that Best Delegate can make a powerful statement by getting rid of them. These are both faculty advisors who respect Best Delegate for its other work. Of course, other faculty advisors and head delegates of top-ranked teams have been eagerly awaiting the rankings and probably benefit from them, so there is no consensus here.
There are a lot of reasons for and against rankings, but when the faculty advisors of some of the best and most respected teams do not believe it is the right platform of recognition, then it is time for a change.
What Will the New Recognition Look Like?
Best Delegate’s mission is still to help participants find success in Model United Nations, and it would be a disservice to a large part of the North America high school MUN community if existing definitions of success that are based on awards are not recognized. Therefore, Best Delegate will still publish a recognition platform.
The recognition platform that we will aim to publish by mid-June is a list of the top delegations for Canada and for five regions in the United States: Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, South, and West. Top delegations will be determined more by facts — the schools in each region that won the top school delegation awards at top multi-day conferences in the US and Canada — and less reliance on the weighted score formula used in the rankings that rewarded teams for winning more individual awards at more conferences and at the most competitive conferences. In order to best represent each region’s conferences and teams, Best Delegate will be reaching out to over 100 multi-day conferences located throughout the United States and Canada for their delegation award results and full awards lists where available. In order to balance between de-emphasizing competition while making the results meaningful, the end result will look similar to the tiered and limited Top 25 Regional teams from last year’s rankings.
An interesting alternative idea suggested by a reader in a comment to one of the previous rankings articles is to have a standing page of delegation award winners at every conference. This would simply be sharing facts without placing value or analysis on them (i.e. listing the delegation award winners without comparing their merits against delegation award winners at other conferences), and it would be updated throughout the year. This would be a further departure from the rankings and could be considered in future years.
If you have suggestions, please leave a comment and that will be the official way for us to receive feedback on how to best recognize teams for their successes in the future.
Best Delegate is currently reaching out to over 100 multi-day conferences in the United States and Canada for their awards lists. Nikita Barde is the project lead for the US Northeast region, Erik Leiden is the project lead for the US Mid-Atlantic region, Prathm Juneja is the project lead for the US Midwest and US South regions, and Ginny Tan is the project lead for the US West region and Canada. We hope to publish the results by mid-June.