Everybody who has participated in a crisis committee in Model UN has had the same experience- you walk in to committee with all kinds of strategies and solutions, and sit down ready to rock and roll. Then, committee opens with a big crisis update, and everybody starts furiously writing crisis notes (aka Personal Directives) to respond to the crisis using what they assume is their portfolio. Though this may have limited success, pretty much all your major strategies are thrown out the window to respond to this immediate crisis to try to be the committee leader. This is missing the big picture.
Next time, take a breathe and get organized. Instead of flying into the rat race that is the first crisis update, try writing these three crisis notes to set yourself up to lead throughout the entire conference instead of getting shot down for short-sighted solutions to small pieces of the crisis.
1. Setting the Scene and Crafting Your Story
One of the greatest skills as a crisis delegate is the ability to put yourself in the shoes of the individual staffers responding to your note. While there are a lot of constraining factors on how your note might be responded to (realism, where the staff feels the crisis should go, your portfolio, and how busy the staff is), one thing that transcends all these factors is how engaging, entertaining, and memorable your notes are. More engaging notes get better responses- no staffer likes to receive a note that just says “how many troops do I have?”. Crisis committees are about innovation and imagination, so let that show through in your notes by crafting a vivid narrative format and story.
Who are your orders going to? How? It’s important to establish early on who you are communicating with, why you trust them, and any protocols for protecting your information or how to carry out these orders. For example, some delegates like to work through their Personal Secretary of Chief of Staff (make sure to name them). Others like to communicate through their wife or husband, a pen-pal, or a variety of other people who they expect to carry their correspondence and oversee that their plans are executed. Some delegates even frame their notes as personal journal entries- whatever your format is, make it interested and detailed so the staff will remember it. (As a bonus, working with a named correspondent makes it easier for the crisis staff to weave your story in with the committee-wide crisis!)
Is there a particular base of operations your plans will be executed from? This could be a government building, a shady secret headquarters, a “Skyfall” like fortress in the woods, or even a secret meeting point in the city. You don’t necessarily need a setting to frame your plans, however it can help to make your plan more memorable and engaging.
Your Character’s Personality and Ideologies
In many committees (especially fantasy crises and pre-1800 committees) you may be representing a made-up person, or a name chosen from a roster found through extensive research but with no supporting information. This means that you might have about a paragraph of biography on your role, which may not be enough for you to know the policies of your character. Determining how your character feels about use of military force, religion, economic policies, or many, many more issues may not be clear. Make this a part of your opening, so the crisis stay knows that you’re going to stay consistent and have a plan, instead of just making knee-jerk reactions to committee updates.
Opening Note Number 1- Example
To my trusted assistant Henry,
Great challenges are upon us, so I have to know that I can trust you with our mission over the next months. Together, we need to show these rebels how seriously we will take them through showing our military force, and we must bring our country together through limiting our trade with foreign powers.
I need you to meet me at the old safe-house in Arlington every morning at 9am for your orders, which you must keep confidential at all costs. Thank you for your loyalty.
Best, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter
2. Taking Inventory
To get started in committee, you need to know what resources you actually have! This is both so you can responsibly employ your resources, but also so that you don’t get shot down at a critical moment because you assumed you had resources that you never did. Knowing what tools you have is critical for success.
Your second note in committee should take the form of an “inventory list” of any important resource for your portfolio and strategies. You could have line items for obvious things like personal funds, weapons, staff size, troop count, or budget. However, you could also ask for less obvious things- though it may sound silly, if you’re representing a made-up character you could ask how many kids you have. You could ask about properties you may own, quantities of relief food or medicines you might have under your control, or spies in certain locations.
The Inventory List is a strategic move aside from needing this information early on. For each line-item you put on your Inventory List (within reason), you’re asking “how many of these do I have?”, not “do I have any?”. You can even leave blanks on your note asking for immediate response. When you do this, the crisis staff is less likely to put “0” than they are to shoot you down if you ask later on. Give it a try and you’ll see what I mean.
Opening Note Number 2- Example
Please give me a report on the current status of our office, with numbers for the following items critical to our success against the Wakandan Rebels:
Fiscal Year 2015 Discretionary Budget: _________________
Support Staff: _________________
Spies placed in Wakandan Government: _________________
Polio Vaccinations: _________________
M16 Rifles: _________________
Unarmed Surveillance UAVs: _________________
Best, Director of Intelligence
3. Orienting for the Crisis
One of the biggest challenges in crisis is staying relevant, especially if you have a challenging portfolio to work with. That’s why it’s important to orient your portfolio to stay relevant throughout the conference. First, you’ll need to look long and hard at the Background Guide and the history of the issue to identify some of the major subtopics your committee will face. For the sake of practice, let’s imagine your committee is a Cold-War era Third-World country combating a revolutionary movement. Major subtopics and crisis themes you might encounter would be balancing power and seeking aid from the USSR/USA, managing humanitarian crises, forming battle plans, and stemming the outbreak of a disease called Spattergroit.
Your role here is to frame your portfolio to make sure you can stay relevant throughout the conference- this is tricky, but it’s critical that you restructure or set up your portfolio for all of these subtopics. Let’s imagine that with the crisis above, you drew the short straw and ended up as Minister of Health. Here is how you might make sure you stay relevant for these subtopics:
Opening Note Number 3- Example
To adjust for the challenges posed by our current crises, I need you to oversee the following changes to properly address the unique health challenges posed to our offices:
- Set up camps across the country to house internally displaced persons from the resulting conflict, and route all sanitation, medicine, and food aid provision through our offices;
- To ensure that our troops have the proper level of ability to administer field medicine, place 1 field medic for every 50 troops in the field;
- Reach out to the United States State Department requesting vaccinations and medical professionals to combat Spattergroit before it becomes a major international health crisis and destabilizes the region. Allow them to place advisors in our camps if they are willing to commit to aiding us.
Best, Minister of Health
There are many other notes that can be sent to set you up for success in crisis committee, but we recommend getting started with these three steps to make sure you are telling an engaging story, have the resources you need, and can stay relevant throughout all of your committee sessions.