Model UN Overview
Q: What is Model United Nations?
A: Model United Nations is a simulation of the UN General Assembly and other multilateral bodies. In Model UN, students step into the shoes of ambassadors from UN member states to debate current issues on the organization’s agenda. While playing their roles as ambassadors, student “delegates” make speeches, prepare draft resolutions, negotiate with allies and adversaries, resolve conflicts, and navigate the Model UN conference rules of procedure – all in the interest of mobilizing international cooperation to resolve problems that affect countries all over the world.
Before playing out their ambassadorial roles in a Model UN simulation, students research the issue that their committee will address. Model UN participants learn how the international community acts on its concerns about topics including peace and security, human rights, the environment, food and hunger, economic development and globalization. Model UN delegates also look closely at the needs, goals and foreign policies of the countries they will represent at the event. The insights they gain from their exploration of history, geography, culture, economics and science contribute to the authenticity of the simulation when the role playing gets under way. The delegates’ in-depth knowledge of their countries guarantees a lively and memorable experience.
Q: How did Model UN begin?
A: While there is no official record of how Model UN began, we do know that Model UN is the successor of a series of student-led Model League of Nations simulations. Some people believe that the first Model UN conference was held at Harvard University, although other colleges claim they held the first conference. Regardless, simulations of international organizations began even before the birth of the United Nations! For over sixty years, UNA-USA has served as a clearinghouse of Model UN information and organizer of conferences.
Q: What is the relationship of UNA-USA to Model United Nations?
A: UNA-USA, a nonprofit, nonpartisan national organization with a network of more than 175 community-based chapters and divisions, has been a driving force behind Model UN education since the inception of its predecessor organization, the American Association for the United Nations, in 1943. Model UN is neither a UN nor a UNA creation, and it is not officially owned by any individual organization. The Model UN program in the United States is actually a decentralized community that is driven predominately by its student participants.
UNA-USA strives to be a clearinghouse for Model UN resources for participants and organizers. Over the years, UNA-USA has created a library of Model UN publications and educational materials, including the Guide to Delegate Preparation, the Global Classrooms® Program curricular units, the Model UN for Everyone video, How to Plan a Model United Nations Conference and the documentary film Decorum.
Q: Who participates in Model United Nations?
A: The popularity of Model UN continues to grow and more than 400,000 middle school, high school and college/university students worldwide participate every year.
Many of today’s leaders in law, government, business and the arts participated in Model UN during their academic careers:
- US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer
- Former World Court Justice Stephen M. Schwebel
- ABC’s This Week anchor George Stephanopoulos
- Former first-daughter Chelsea Clinton
- Under-Secretary General for Public Information, Kiyotaka Akasaka
- UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon
- Actor Samuel L. Jackson
- Ryan Seacrest from American Idol.
- Rainn Wilson – Dwight from The Office
More recently, Model UN has been receiving attention in the mainstream media and has been featured in television programs including Community, Parks and Recreation, The Simpson’s, Like Family, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Will and Grace, The OC, and Gossip Girl. Model UN was the theme of the Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen movie Winning London and mentioned in The Sure Thing and Along Came Polly. And at least one Jeopardy question has been correctly answered with “What is Model UN?”
Q: What types of topics are discussed in Model UN conferences?
A: The agenda items discussed in committee vary at each conference. Most conferences tend to focus on current affairs issues that are being discussed in the United Nations. These issues can highlight political, financial and/or social concerns. However, the task of some committees might be to address hypothetical concerns or issues from the past or future. For example, many conferences have “crisis” committees, in which delegates must react to a hypothetical or actual crisis situation. Other conferences host historical or future Security Council simulations.
Q: What is a Model UN delegate?
A: A Model UN delegate is a student who assumes the role of an ambassador to the United Nations in a Model UN simulation. Prior to a conference or event, a Model UN delegate does not need extensive experience in international relations. Anyone can participate in Model UN, so long as they have the ambition to learn something new and to work with people to try and make a difference in the world. Model UN students tend to go on to become great leaders in politics, law, business, education and medicine, such as the people mentioned above.
Q: Why should I participate in Model UN?
A: Model UN promotes students’ and teachers’ interest in world around them and broadens a student’s knowledge in a variety of subjects. Model UN also teaches vital skills in negotiation, public speaking, problem solving, conflict resolution, research and communication. Model UN also gives students and teachers the opportunity to meet interesting new people and make new friends.
Q: What are some of the educational benefits of Model UN?
A: For over 60 years, teachers and students have benefited from and enjoyed this interactive learning experience. It not only involves young people in the study and discussion of global issues, but also encourages the development of skills useful throughout their lives, such as research, writing, public speaking, problem solving, consensus building, conflict resolution and compromise and cooperation.
Q: How do I start a Model UN program at my school?
A: You can start a Model UN club or team at your school with a few simple steps. First, you should find a faculty advisor by asking teachers if they would be interested in helping you start a Model UN club. You could start by asking a humanities or social science teacher. You could also ask your principal or social studies chairperson if they know any teachers that would be interested. Next, you need to recruit members and pick a day and time to meet. Most groups meet about once a week. At your meetings you should choose which conferences to attend, organize your fundraising efforts, talk about any new information you may have received, prepare for your conference and hold practice simulations.
For additional help, you can contact Model UN groups in your area. Some Model UN conferences provide outreach and assistance to developing programs, such as delegate and advisor workshops.
Check out our tips on how to start your own Model UN club.
Q: Should we have a Model UN class or a Model UN club?
A: In order to have a class, your group will need a faculty advisor who has experience with Model UN. Plus, the teacher would have to ask your school’s administration to approve the course. To have a club, your advisor does not have to have prior experiences with Model UN. Consult your teachers or school principal to see which option will work best at your school. Also, find Model UN advisors within your school district who may have experience teaching Model UN in the classroom.
Q: How do I recruit members for my Model UN team?
A: You can recruit new members by posting flyers around your school, putting flyers in teachers’ mailboxes and setting up a special meeting, either after school or during an activity period. At the meeting, you might want to show Model UN for Everyone, a video created by UNA-USA’s Education Department to introduce people to the Model UN. You might also want to discuss what happens at a Model UN conference and which conferences you might want to attend. Aside from setting up a meeting, you could also ask teachers to announce the new club in their classes, or maybe even offer extra credit.
Q: What is the role of a Model UN faculty advisor?
A: The faculty advisor is a teacher who takes responsibility for students when the team attends a Model UN conference. Usually the faculty advisor should be fully committed to Model UN, but he or she does not need prior Model UN experience. This person should be able to assist students with their research, serve as a coach during the conference and assist with all of the logistics of attending a conference.
Q: Can I start a Model UN conference at my school?
A: Starting a Model United Nations Conference requires a great deal of time and a committed staff. For more information on planning a conference visit our Model UN Conference Planner’s Guide.
Model UN Conferences
Q: What is a Model UN conference?
A: Some Model UN exercises take place in the classroom and others are school-wide. Model UN events that are regional, national or international are called conferences. Conferences are much larger, with participants from all over the United States and the world. More than one million people have participated in Model UN conferences around the world since the activity became popular. Today there are well over 400 conferences that take place in 52 countries. Conference can have as few as 30 students or as many as 3,000.
Q: When and where are Model UN conferences held?
A: There are over 400 Model UN conferences held annually worldwide. These conferences take place virtually every month throughout the school year, with fewer events during the summer and standardized testing dates. Conferences often take place on university campuses, large hotels, and convention centers.
Q: Where can I find information about conferences in my area?
A: For dates and more information on conferences all over the world, please visit UNA-USA’s Model UN Conference Calendar. If you are a conference organizer, you can also input your conference’s information to be accessed by everyone. Lastly, you can simply search for “Model UN conferences” and your location on the internet.
Q: How do I decide which Model UN conferences to attend?
A: For Model UN groups that are just beginning, it’s best to attend smaller Model UN conferences that are aimed at first-time participants. Smaller conferences provide more opportunities for you to interact with other delegates and to have your voice heard. Consider whether your Model UN team will be comfortable in a situation where there are 200+ students in a committee room.
Q: Where can my organization get the funds to attend a Model UN conference?
A: Because many Model UN conferences are held at colleges and hotels, fees can range from $5 to $250+ per delegate. These fees usually do not include transportation, meals, or lodging. In a few cases, meals and lodging are covered. Some conferences offer an early-registration discount, while others have late fees. Many Model UN groups request funds through their school’s administration to cover transportation and conference costs. Other groups apply for scholarships, but these are usually limited to groups traveling abroad. Model UN clubs can request funds through their local UNA-USA chapter. Groups should also try local organizations such as Rotary and Lions Clubs for support. Most groups do a lot of their own fundraising through monthly group activities, dance-a-thons, bake sales, car washes and sporting events.
When determining which conference(s) your group will attend, be sure to consider the following factors:
- Size of the delegation – How many delegates will be attending?
- Transportation, lodging, and meals – Depending on the length and location of the conference, how much more will conference expenses increase?
- Additional advisor support – If your group is part of a school activity, will you need to bring additional chaperones to the conference?
Model UN Preparation
Q: How should I prepare for my Model UN conference?
A: Researching is the first and most important step in preparing for a conference. Not only is it necessary to have a grasp on information about the country you are representing and its position on the policies being discussed, it is also important to understand the UN body that your committee is representing. For an overview of research suggestions, as well as useful links, visit our Research Overview from the Model UN Preparation Guide.
Q: What is a position paper and how do I write one?
A: Before attending a conference, it is necessary to have a clear understanding about the workings of your country, as well as its position on the issues that are being discussed. Most conferences will even require a position paper in advance to ensure that delegates have properly researched their country. Position papers should contain your country’s relation to the topic, as well as its suggestions for how to solve the issues discussed. For more information about position paper form, as well as a sample position paper, visit the Position Paper section from the Model UN Preparation Guide.
Q: What should I wear to a Model UN conference?
A: Dressing professionally and appropriately is an important aspect of Model United Nations preparations. Just like being polite and having proper manners, dressing appropriately is an important way to show respect for the nation you are representing, for your fellow delegates and for the United Nations. At some conferences, delegates may wear their own national dress; however, most conferences require western business attire. Western business attire, or international standard business attire, serves as customary dress for workplaces. It includes wearing a suit, which is made up of pants, a matching jacket, a button-down dress shirt, and a tie. Conservative dress shoes and socks are also important. Skirts and dresses may also be worn as long as they fall to a respectable length and do not expose a lot of skin. The main thing to remember is to always insure that your appearance is tidy and put together, and that you are well covered.
Check out our Dressing for Success section of the Model UN Preparation Guide for more detailed information.
Q: What are the rules of procedure at a conference?
A: In order for a committee session to progress smoothly, it is important for delegates to follow the rules of procedure. These rules ensure that order is kept and delegates have equal opportunities to contribute to the discussion. Rules of procedure also provide the proper format to ask questions and make speeches. Conference organizers usually provide schools with their rules of procedure, sometimes posting them on their website. For a complete explanation or the rules of procedure, visit the Rules of Procedure section from the Model UN Preparation Guide.
Q: What is caucusing?
A: Caucusing is informal debate that occurs during a Model UN conference. It serves as an important method of discussion because it allows for greater participation and consensus building. Caucusing can be either “moderated” when speakers are called on by the chair after raising their placards or “un-moderated”, which is a designated time for delegates without the intervention of the chair to have discussion and work on resolutions. For more information on the different types of caucuses, as well as tips on how to use caucus time successfully, visit the Caucusing section from the Model UN Preparation Guide.
Q: How do I write a resolution?
A: During a committee session resolutions are essential to promote debate and create solutions to issues that are being discussed. Resolutions not only acknowledge the issues that are being debated, but they also present a series of steps that can be taken resolve the conflict. Writing resolutions can be challenging since they must appeal to a broad range of members with differing concerns if they are going to be successfully passed. For information on correct format and helpful tips, visit theResolutions section from the Model UN Preparation Guide.
Q: How can I feel more confident speaking in public?
A: Public speaking is a big component of a Model UN conference and an essential skill to ensure that your nation’s concerns are represented. Speeches are made by individual nations throughout committee sessions from the speaker’s list and during moderated caucuses. Negotiation can also occur on an individual and informal level; however, it is important to present your nation’s views clearly and eloquently to the entire committee. For more help and information about public speaking, visit the Public Speakingsection from the Model UN Preparation Guide.
Q: How does my team register for a Model UN Conference?
A: The UNESCO Center for Peace site is designed to make it as easy as possible for you to select the conference best suited to your schedule, financial resources and location.
To register for a Model UN Conference, your team should:
- Select the dates and location of the Model UN conference appropriate to your group’s academic level and financial resources. Also, set goals on what you would like to achieve by attending a particular Model UN conference;
- Write to the Secretary-General or contact person for the Model UN conference to request registration forms, and if you wish, contact information for a faculty advisor or student who attended the conference the year before. Many conferences have websites that provide a good look into the size and scope of a conference. Some sites even have registration forms on-line;
- Keep in mind that many conferences are student-run. If you do not receive your information within a reasonable amount of time, a quick phone call can get things on track;
- Once you have received conference registration forms, complete and return the requested information and fees. Your group will soon receive confirmation of registration and a country assignment as well as a conference schedule, background materials and hotel information. Remember to keep a copy of all materials and checks sent to conference organizers.
Q: How do we select a country?
A: When registering for a Model UN conference, participants will usually be asked to indicate which countries they want to role-play at the conference. Although there are 193 countries and numerous non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to choose from, many schools compete for the 15 countries on the Security Council, especially the five permanent members with veto power: China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
New teams should request mid-sized countries, as they play an integral role in debate but are not overwhelming. It is worth noting, however, that in the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, and most other UN committees and agencies, the principle of sovereign equality governs the proceedings. This means each member state has one vote. Even the “smallest” member state not only has an important role to play, but can sometimes wield considerable influence. Therefore, bear in mind that size and power are the not only important criteria for choosing an interesting country to represent.
Most conferences work on a first-come, first-served basis when it comes to country assignments. Usually, the sooner you send in your registration materials and fees, the better your chances of getting the country of your choice. However, some conference organizers give priority to schools that received awards the previous year.
It may be helpful to consider some of the following criteria when narrowing down country preferences:
- What would your group like to learn from this experience?
- Which countries would help to enhance this learning experience?
- How does each country fit into the group’s course of study?
- For example, an advisor wishing to teach a course on economic development may wish to choose a developing or newly-developed economy.
- How much of a challenge does each country pose for the group?
- How familiar are the students in the group with each country or region you are considering?
- Are there enough participants in the group to represent the countries you have chosen? Most conferences provide a matrix that lists the minimum and maximum numbers of delegates needed to represent each country. You may have enough members to represent just one country or several.
Can’t find your question?
For Model UN preparation questions, please visit our MUN Preparation section.