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Getting started: basic research tips for Model UN

Basic Research

It happens—a Model UN conference is coming up, and you’re not prepared with even basic research. Maybe you’re brand new to Model UN; maybe you’ve been re-assigned to a new committee at the last minute; maybe your school has just added another delegation for a conference; maybe the procrastination monster got the best of you. For whatever reason, you find that it’s time to go back to the basics.

If you want to accurately represent your country’s stance on the issues and maximize your research efficiency, where do you even start?

Read the conference materials

Every conference will publish materials to prepare for the conference, though these materials will vary from conference to conference. Most conferences will publish, in print or online, all of the the information you need about conference policies, rules and procedures, and logistics. Reading these carefully will help you accomplish your goals at the conference: your preparation will be incomplete otherwise.

Conference staff may additionally publish in-depth topic guides. For example, AMUN publishes the Issues at AMUN handbook each fall to provide background briefs on the year’s agenda items. Often these guides will provide a brief bibliography of sources and will also help you narrow the scope of broad UN topics. They are starting points for your research.Your research journey should not end there, but it is probably the best place for it to start!

Understand how the UN works

You’ll also want to have a clear understanding of the United Nations and how your particular committee or simulation fits into the bigger picture of the United Nations as a whole. Luckily, this will be a fast and easy step. Right here on The AMUN Accords, you can start with an overview of the United Nations, and continue reading about the General Assembly, Security Council, or Economic and Social Council (three of the most-common simulation types) as well. You can also head over to the “About the UN” section of the UN homepage for more information.

Conduct research about your country

During the conference, you will likely be serving as a distinguished representative from a United Nations Member State or Observer State. You should, at a minimum know and understand the basic contours of your country’s population, geography, social and cultural structure, alliances and trade partners, and governmental system. There are a number of places where you can find current information.

The United Nations produces the World Statistics Pocketbook, which “is an annual compilation of key economic, social, and environmental indicators. Other sources include sites such as the World Factbook (produced by the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency) or the country profiles published by the BBC.

A deep dive on the historical, cultural, political, economic and social background and intricacies of your country is useful. But your research needs to move beyond the borders of your country to the regional and global implications of complex issues. You will also need to understand how your country fits into larger debates of concern to the international community.

Conduct research about your committee’s topics

The conference you are attending will publish an agenda with the specific topics your committee will be discussing. If you are on a Security Council simulation, you may find that you have an “Open Agenda.” While an open agenda may seem daunting, you will probably be able to identify two or three hot-spots on which to focus your attention. Remember to look specifically for places where the Security Council has been active. Due to geopolitics and national interests, some international crises receive more attention than others in the United Nations Security Council.

Once you understand your committee’s topics (or likely topics), you can think about researching them based on three broad questions: What has the UN done on this issue in the past? What is the UN considering now or in the future? And what are the major debates or disagreements among Member States about this topic?

You can start by reading the most recent resolution (or resolutions) passed on the topic area. It is often easiest to find resolutions by year and topic—you can start with the most recent sessions, and move backwards to find the most recent relevant resolutions from the General Assembly and resolutions from the Security Council. Later, you can dive into the more advanced UN Official Document System (ODS).

In addition to research based on United Nations sources, you should also conduct a general Internet-based search for news articles, non-governmental organizations, think tanks, and scholarly work about the topic in question. Concentrate on the global and UN-related aspects of the topic. Using an advanced search function in a search engine can help.

Conduct research about your country’s position on your committee’s topics

The final step in your research is to determine your country’s position on the topics you will be discussing in your committee. This can also be the most challenging aspect of Model UN research, so we will cover it in more depth in a future blog post.

Consider starting with the website for your country’s permanent mission to the United Nations; if there is one, it will be linked from your country’s name on the list of United Nations Member States. From here, the depth of information that you find will vary, but you may find things like official statements or speeches, press releases or more general commentary about topics and issues before the United Nations.

By now, you probably also have a list of United Nations resolutions related to your topic. For General Assembly resolutions, you can look up the voting record on GA resolutions and figure out how your country voted. Looking at these voting records will help you understand the patterns of blocs and alliances and interest groups that can form around certain issues. Even if you are having difficulty understanding the intricacies of your country’s position on a topic, knowing how it has voted in the past (and how your neighbors, friends, and adversaries have voted) is a great start.

Finally, you can use Internet search engines to search for the phrase “[country] said” and the name of your committee to find things such as speeches, press releases and other public statements about your topic.

Make a game-plan for the conference

With your basic Model UN research collected, it’s now time to make a plan for the conference. You should put all of your research and notes into a useable format: many people use traditional three-ring binders and printed material, although digital portfolios are becoming increasingly common as access to mobile devices and wifi access improves.

Research isn’t always easy. But the more time you can devote to preparation, the better positioned you will be when the chair gavels in the committee.

More to read

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