Niche Conferences, Part 2: Their Benefits to Conference Organizers

by KFC on January 7, 2009

In a previous post, we explored why niche conferences, particularly those at the college level such as SCSY, NCSC, ChoMUN, LAMUNC, VICS, PICSim, and CMMUNY, are great for delegates. Niche conferences are also popular at the college level from the perspective of the conference organizer for three reasons: the creativity of its members, the crisis experience of its members, and the recognition of attendance difficulties.

Conference organizers at the college level may have established specialty interests and combined with creativity are able to produce many original committees and/or crisis scenarios. Specialty interests, whether they are personal or career-related, drive chairs to create committees that match those interests. For example, I was very interested in the influence multinational corporations have on international relations, so I created the World Economic Forum committee where delegates could represent corporations’ views on world issues. I have a friend who decided to apply her internship experience with UN Peacekeeping and created a crisis committee that simulated the 1994 Rwanda conflict from the UN Peacekeepers’ perspective. Another friend is a huge soccer fan, so he created and chaired a FIFA committee. These committees tend to be fun and refreshing, and perhaps better run than a traditional committee, because the chair is often devoted to turning their creativity into a reality.

In-depth experience with crisis committees is the other driver of college-level chairs to create crisis committees. These chairs have experienced as delegates not just the basic news update or guest speaker, but the assassination attempts, committee raids, spying, backstabbing, terrorist ultimatum videos and so forth that sparks their own ideas and interests to create a crisis map. At a large university, there may also be broader access to props (think about all the different countries that the collective club membership has traveled to), military equipment if your campus has ROTC, as well as a good video production guy. Combined, these people will be very excited at the opportunity to get their creative juices flowing and will have a lot of fun creating and professionally executing stunningly debate-provoking crisis scenarios.

A more sobering reason why niche conferences are beneficial to conference organizers at the college level is the recognition of attendance difficulties. This reason can apply for some high school organizers or potential organizers as well. If it is financially difficult for teams to attend your conference, or if you face a saturated market, it may be smart to offer a smaller niche conference to match a realistic market share that your conference can capture.

Unlike at the high school level where a conference may be an hour bus ride away, significant travel expenses are required to attend most college conferences. Teams only have a certain budget and cannot afford to attend too many conferences. Therefore, not every conference will attract enough delegates to host full-sized General Assembly and ECOSOC committees that are a cornerstone of the traditional Model UN conference. By employing smaller niche committees, conference organizers with say, 25 delegates to work with can fill them up in a Future Security Council committee rather than put those 25 delegates into a half-full ECOSOC committee. I think any conference that recognizes the need to treat delegates with good customer service would prefer lively debate and a good delegate experience over futile attempts at filling up larger “cash cow” committees.

For leaders of Model UN conference organizers (or potential conference organizers) who are reading this post, the takeaway could be that if your club wants to a host a conference but for a variety of reasons cannot immediately attract large numbers of delegates, or if your club has members that enjoy crisis and creativity, hosting a niche conference may be your solution. I will note that it is not easy to generate thoughtfully-created original committees or crisis scenarios and doing so does require a degree of Model UN experience. So if your program is considering entering the niche market but does not have the crisis experience, perhaps pursuing an all-Security Council conference, a novice-only or training conference, or a conference with smaller specialized committees that don’t deviate too far from traditional committees (think regional committees like EU, OAS, etc.) may be more feasible.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: