Why research alone doesn’t win MUN conferences

Imagine this scenario; you get the assignment for your next MUN conference. You spend weeks researching the country, committee and topic. You submit the perfect position paper. You turn up to the conference armed with all the research and all the odds in your favor. You know the Rules of Procedure by heart, better than the Chairs, even. You work tirelessly in committee sessions. You are the sponsor of a Draft Resolution. You are on the Panel of Authors. Your resolution passes.

The above steps are a sure-fire way of securing the accolade of “Best Delegate.” At least, they were until I found myself in a DISEC room at ScotMUN 2019. I rocked up to said conference high on a win from LIMUN the week before, yet I discovered that the formula that cemented my success there didn’t work here. Why was this the case? Here are three things that I observed…

No raised placard, no speaking time, no credit, no award.
It’s that simple; the most likely candidate for an award is the delegate who speaks consistently throughout, normally a Draft Resolution sponsor, and participates in the Panel of Authors. You may have been instrumental in writing said Draft Resolution, thus fulfilling one criterion, however the Chairs will credit the delegate who speaks and takes credit for the parts that they have written, as opposed to the delegate who stays silent. There are two elements when it comes to speaking, first to be noticed and second to defend and own your ideas. In both cases, if you do not speak, you cannot take due credit for your work, giving rival delegates free rein to show the most presence and activity even if they do not monopolize the debate.

To better illustrate my point, I put to you this example; China stayed quiet throughout the entire conference except for the last session, when suddenly they woke up and started talking. It transpires that they were a formidable negotiator and resolution writer. Unfortunately, by that point, it was too little, too late; South Africa and Syria had already taken ownership of the Draft Resolution and thus all the credit for China’s additions, firstly by actively participating in all caucuses, moderated and unmoderated, as well as in the General Speakers’ List, Consultations of the Whole and Panel of Authors. In short, they made sure that everything they voiced ended up on that Draft Resolution, whereas China’s stony silence meant that their contributions were overlooked. The Chairs therefore gave South Africa and Syria the credit and, consequently, the awards.

Delegates get jealous
Jealousy truly is the green-eyed monster. Don’t believe me? Think back to the person at school who got straight As effortlessly. You put in blood, sweat and tears to get into a half-decent University, while they swan off to an Ivy League school from which they will, inevitably, go on to occupy positions of the ultimate privilege: an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, the President of the United States or even, heaven forbid, the next Secretary-General of the United Nations. Meanwhile, you are fighting just to avoid unemployment. It’s enough to make your blood boil, isn’t it?

This is equally true of MUN debates; at ScotMUN, India waltzed in armed with pages of research. Not only did they have sheets of information on their country’s immediate national interest, relationship with the topic and the intricate workings of the DISEC committee, but they had also prepared a list of operative clauses and a chart of potential allies. In short, they could have done nothing more to rankle the other delegates.

Had India gone to the socials, developed a rapport with other delegates, cracked a joke or two and generally proved themselves to be a fun-loving, easy-going human being, the following scenario would not have ensued. Instead, here’s what happened;

North Korea accused India of coming prepared to push their agenda and of dominating the debate without caring about the interests of other countries. No matter how much India protested, Pakistan, the United Kingdom and Russia echoed North Korea’s sentiments, thus portraying India as an unlikeable, albeit competent, delegate. It was therefore difficult for India to collaborate with others on a Working Paper, and even got temporarily removed as a sponsor of a Draft Resolution, despite having written most of it.

You heard it here first; people will not help you if they do not like you.

Bad Chairs
We’ve all had them; the ones who write egregiously vague study guides, which they have the audacity to upload a mere four days before the conference. The ones who don’t read position papers. The ones who listen to the debate with complete apathy, only to pounce aggressively on the one errant “I” that escapes your lips. The ones who pop out for a cheeky coffee during unmoderated caucuses. The ones who respond sulkily when challenged and hold it against you for the rest of the conference. The ones who are incapable of justifying their logic behind giving awards and, worse still, the ones who, no matter how many times you ask, don’t give feedback.

Sound familiar? I thought so. Unfortunately, like exams, unemployment, poverty, disease, old age and death, bad Chairs are a fact of life.

The good news is, you can overcome this by getting a feel (in a strictly figurative sense) for your Chairs. In the very first session, it is worth allowing other delegates to speak, as this will give some insight into their Chairing style. If you want to raise a Point of Order or Motion to Appeal the Decision of the Chair, but fear that the Chair will respond badly, persuade another delegate to raise the motion instead. This way, they are risking the enmity of the Chair, and not you.

Remember; the art of diplomacy is getting other people to do what you want.

To Sum Up

Speak consistently. Make sure you keep adding yourself to the General Speakers’ List and participate in the discussion. Chairs tend to credit Delegates who can take ownership of concrete ideas and put them in a Draft Resolution; this is impossible if you do not raise your placard.

Go to the socials. This way, you will develop a rapport with other Delegates, who will see you as a fun person. People want to work with fun people.
Let other Delegates test the water. This is especially true if the Chairs are incompetent. It will allow you to navigate their style of Chairing so that when you get up to speak, they are more likely to respond positively to what you are saying.

About the Author:

Helena Granik is the Internal Training Officer at a UK University of Exeter. She does Model United Nations alongside a degree in Modern Languages. Helena has participated in conferences across Europe and her MUN accolades include a number of Best Delegate awards.