Trying to describe or define Model United Nations is a lofty task. When you tell someone that you compete in Model UN, or you list it on your resume, there are inevitably questions about what Model UN really is. However, there’s not one sentence that can sum up exactly what it means to be a participant in Model UN, or what the competition itself even entails. The reason simply is that Model UN can mean a lot of different things.
Wikipedia begins its article on Model UN by defining it as, “an educational simulation and/or academic activity in which students can learn about diplomacy, international relations, and the United Nations” (Wikipedia), but reading that sentence doesn’t relate well to what I do when I say Model UN. In its 2007 article also titled, “What is Model United Nations?” Best Delegate sought to answer the same question. Best Delegate also begins their article with the same style of response, “Model United Nations, also known as Model UN or MUN, is an extra-curricular activity in which students typically roleplay delegates to the United Nations and simulate UN committees” (Best Delegate). I don’t think that relates to what I do either. So what do I think Model United Nations is?
Answering the Question
Model United Nations is an activity that focuses on the use of debate, creative writing, problem solving, and role-play to resolve issues using Model UN rules of procedure. This activity can relate to United Nations bodies, but often does not. The goal of the activity is to step into the shoes of another country or person to resolve issues surrounding a certain topic that is at hand. Delegates, the students who compete in Model UN, compete to win awards for those who best encompass the qualities mentioned above.
The Structure of Model UN
There is really no exact structure of a Model UN committee. To summarize, Model UN is a club or class that students from middle school through college can participate in. Each individual club is a team that often trains together to improve their ability to compete with other teams at a conference. At a conference, delegates are split up into different committees. Each committee has a set topic, but can vary in style and procedure. There are two main types of committees: General Assembly (GA) and Crisis.
General Assembly Committees
General Assembly committees are what people typically think of as Model UN, generally because of representation in the media (looking at you, Parks and Rec). Delegates role-play as different countries in this style and the committee body is typically one from the United Nations, like DISEC for example. Delegates typically have a couple topics within the purview of that committee to discuss and come into committee with plenty of background research in the topics to be discussed and the country they are representing. The committee seeks to come to a cohesive resolution, a final document outlining new policy measures, for each topic at hand. A more nuanced description of this type of committee can be found in our What is a General Assembly Committee? article.
Though most non-delegates are unaware of this structure, it is undeniable that Crisis committees are on the rise, certainly within the collegiate level of Model UN. Crisis committees take the core of Model UN, and turn it into an even more fast-paced, creative, and competitive endeavor. Using a looser, more informal, but equally important Model UN procedure, Crisis delegates step into the role of an individual in a committee is not a United Nations body. These committees can be historic, present day, or future organizations–real or invented. While GA committees typically only discuss a few topics that are made known before the competition, Crisis committees prepare delegates only for the first topic at hand. New crises (hence the name) can occur at any time. This pushes crisis delegates to be quick thinkers and efficient problem solvers. Crisis delegates can also write notes to the “outside world” and influence the crises that affect committee. In addition, Crisis committees do not culminate in large resolutions, but directives. These are similar in goal, but are shorter and directed at solving the individual crises that arise. There is much more to be said about this complex style of committee that can be found in the What is a Crisis Committee? article.
There is no one article that can possibly describe Model UN perfectly. There are so many different styles and values that one can attribute to the umbrella term of “Model United Nations.” However, it would be limiting to say that MUN delegates only deal with the United Nations and its member countries. However, it can be said that Model UN delegates train to become the best debaters, creative thinkers, problem solvers, delegates, and policy writers they can be, in whatever style of competition they are involved with.
Like we said above, one article can not possibly encompass all aspects of Model UN. Questions, comments, and concerns can be shared with us at email@example.com or through our “Contact” page. All feedback is appreciated!