Using Expert Witnesses in a MUN Committee

Bringing an expert witness into your committee, as a MUN chair, is a fun and interesting way to advance debate while making your committee more exciting and interesting.

What is an expert witness?

Expert Witnesses (sometimes referred to as an observer or just speaker) are not a part of the committee (usually secretariat or other chairs) who are brought in for a multitude of reasons. The expert witness can bring further information on something the committee wants to know more about, represent the position of a country not in the committee, or brought by the chair to help steer the committee in a different direction. 

Expert witnesses bring authority and expertise on a specific topic. Expert witnesses are not unique to MUN and also testify in front of committees at the real United Nations. The presence of expert witnesses enriches and often adds a lot to the committees they testify in front of. As the chairs are the ones briefing the expert witness, they have complete control over when they present, what they say, what information they give to the committee.

An expert witness is simply meant to represent a specialist on a topic that is of importance to committee. As the chair almost always briefs the person playing the expert witness on their role before they come in, so too the types of expert witnesses, what they know and what they will say are limited only by your knowledge and imagination.

Types of expert witnesses:

While there are many types of expert witnesses, here are some of the more common ones:

  • Head of state:
    Leader of a country to discuss political issues at hand. E.g Hassan Rouhani or Kim Jong Un to discuss nuclear issues for their countries of Iran and North Korea
  • Diplomat:
    Have a diplomate provide the position of a country (and usually less politically divisive). E.g The Ambassador of India to the UN.
  • Technical Expert:
    An expert you bring in to discuss technical issues on the subject. E.g a nuclear technician from the IAEA or legal counsel for refugee rights, expert.
  • Non-diplomat expert:
    When a specific individual is utilized to play the expert witness. E.g Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX or Bob Chapek, CEO of Disney as good examples of characters who have influence and expertise while not being diplomats.
  • Fictitious expert:
    These are more common in a specialized, or committee-crisis committee, where the fictitious expert can bring value to the committee while not existing in real life. ,E.g in a Marvel Committee (a very strange idea I’m sure no-one would ever run in a conference) Tony Stark / Iron Man or Thor. Merlin, Rick Sanchez and Jar Jar Binks are other notable examples.

The diversity of the types of expert witnesses is not limited and is based on the needs of the committee. 

Why use an expert witness in MUN?

Bring further information

Sometimes a lack of basic facts in a certain area are needed. An expert witness can give a small data driven presentation with the missing information to the committee.

Give official clarification/sanction

When the chair wants an expert witness is to help clarify ideas and suggestions that the delegates are making, whilst elaborating what you as a chair are looking for. It is one thing for the chair to make a light comment about the topics, completely another to have an expert witness come in and discuss with them to help highlight this suggestion. This clarification is to help delegates feel they need an official opinion of a state, NGO, person not in the committee to move forward.

Review a draft resolution

Expert witnesses can be fantastic for looking at, and commenting on, a draft resolution. If there are any clauses or ideas in it you as a chair find unfeasible or sometimes frankly wrong, you can bring in an expert witness to highlight this for you. 

Get the committee “On Topic”

During a MUN Committee, delegates can often go off-topic and need correcting to get back on topic. The chair’s responsibility is to guide the delegates back without being too heavy-handed, this is where an expert witness can come into play.

Wake up a sleeping committee

An expert witness can bring a change of pace to a committee. Oftentimes, expert witnesses can also be quite fun and change of pace to a committee. Expert witnesses break up from the traditional debate and are a good way to encourage enthusiasm from the delegates as they interact with a new person in the committee. Don’t underestimate the power of a good expert witness.

Delegates enjoyment of a committee is fundamental to the successful running of a committee

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Your reasons for needing expert witnesses can far outstrip these few examples given, and the flexibility of expert witnesses is one of the best things about the process. Therefore, even if you’re not sure, if you feel you need an expert witness to promote good debate or clarify issues in the committee, go ahead! (just make sure to get the ok from your secratate before)

How to use an expert Witness

Unless you are at an incredibly well-connected conference, you are unlikely to have an actual expert witness available to come into the committee. Therefore, you need both academic and logistical planning to create the expert witness and situate it in the committee. There are several steps to this which I will describe below. 

Finding your expert witness

Finding an expert witness might be easier than you might think, since all your expert witness really needs is some coaching and the willingness to be a witness. 

MUN expert witness requirements:

  • MUN Experience – Not necessary, but preferred.
  • Acceptable Memory – An expert witness should be good at remembering some important facts and snippets of information (or should write it down).
  • Acting skills –  No need to be an academy award winner, still some acting skills will really go a long way.
  • Secretariat approval – It’s always a good idea to get approval before bringing in an expert witness. This is especially important when you’re taking a staff member away from the job, such as a chair from another committee.

How to Prepare your expert witness

One of the chairs should leave the committee room and give all the details needed for the expert witness.

Make sure to prepare these details beforehand, give the expert witness some notes if possible. The expert witness should prepare a small speech to have at the beginning to introduce who they are, why they are here and what they can talk about

It’s important to limit the information you’re giving the expert witness, as they’re not a real expert, so don’t treat them as such. 

How to Bring in an expert witness

After the expert witness is ready, make it clear the delegates that the expert witness is ready to bring into the committee. 

Give a simple explanation to the delegates how the questioning will process with the  expert witness. Like, how long the expert witness will be in the committee, how many questions delegates can ask.

The Expert Witness Testimony

Expert Witness Opening Statement

After bringing in the expert witness, the witness should give a brief speech to get their main points out to the delegates. During this speech they should convey the most important information, as well as establishing their competences on the topic. This statement can be the end of the Expert Witness, or you can open the floor to a Q&A. The Q&A is quite common, beneficial and often fun. However, it is the chair’s decision to allow it.

Expert Witness Q&A 

Q&A is often the bulk of the expert witness experience. To effectively run the Q&A, have the delegates raise motions for points of information (or just questions) to the expert witness. The chair should be MODERATING the questions so that they are orderly, everyone who wants to ask gets a chance and that they are not too dilatory of complicated for your expert witness

They chair should make sure the questions are short and simple fundamentally

When the expert witness answers, the chair should try to keep them from ranting on too long on one question. The chair should focus them to prioritise short answers to specific questions when possible.

If the expert doesn’t know the answer there are a few options. The expert witness can try to dodge the question/answer it roughly. Another alternative is for the chair to write them a note or whisper them the answer. A third option is for the witness to make up an answer or simple not answer before moving onto the next questions.

10 minutes is usually enough for the whole Q&A,. It can continue if the chair finds it beneficial, and the expert witness has the time to do so.

Closing statement

Is it customary for the expert witness to give a final statement before leaving where they can repeat their points and give final comments to specific delegates.

Saying goodbye to the expert witness

After the Q&A is done, make sure to thank the expert witness publicly, escort them out of committee and thank them for their expert testimony and performance!

Review

Make sure your delegates remember the information they just got from the expert witness. The chair can suggest they write down important points. Another option is having a moderated caucus to discuss the testimony of the expert witness

With all of these steps, you should have a perfect session with the expert witness, more educated delegates and an overall more enjoyable committee!

Multiple expert witnesses

It’s important to note that you don’t only have one chance for an expert witness. You can bring multiple witnesses, or bring back the same expert witness multiple times.

During a multi-day conference, or a long day two or more are not uncommon. Also, especially if you have a more dynamic or crisis-like committee, expert witnesses can be used quite liberally. Just make sure that your delegates are on board and it can really make a good impact on the committee, making it more enjoyable and unique compared to most other committees. I can also say from experience it’s very fun for the expert witness too!

Conclusion and Notes

There we have it, the Supreme Leader has made quite an impact on the committee and debate is flowing more smoothly! His statements on nuclear disarmament have convinced delegates that maybe bringing in IAEA observers armed with submachine guns to check on North Korean Weapons Depots wasn’t the best idea, and at last they have decided to do more reasonable things.

If done right, your committee is now in a better and richer place. I hope this guide gives you a better idea of what an expert witness is, why they would be used, and how to run the process. Every step of the process is entirely customizable to the situation, committee and conference. Finally, remember that your imagination and the delegate’s ability to adapt are the only limits!

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