Mastering Model UN Research Skills

Embarking on research assignments for a Model United Nations (MUN) conference can be an incredibly daunting task. Granted, understanding the background, current stance and prospects of a UN Member State is nothing short of complex. Adding the multifaceted global issues delegates find solutions for in MUN to the above mix, it is safe to say that research can inspire a plethora of attitudes on delegates (discouragement and intimidation included).

In response to such feelings, we at United Ambassadors put part of our expertise at your disposal to help you make research more efficient and less stressful. We have divided this skill into four principles: your topic, country policy, committee, and solutions. Following, explore several of the secrets to mastering research that we teach at the United Ambassadors MUN Academy:

I. On Mastering Topic Research

​1. Do not stop after reading your Secretary-General (SG) report

Several weeks before attending a UN4MUN conference, you will be given a document written by its conference’s Secretary-General. It provides an overview of the topic at hand and its focus points, evaluates past actions, recommends possible solutions and outlines the positions of the committee’s political groups. Unfortunately, the number of delegates that content themselves with reading the SG report as most of their research is incredibly high. They fail to realize that the SG report is meant to act as the foundation for further investigation, rather than a replacement for it. Thus, they have little prospect of reaching their full potential in committee. Keep in mind that in MUN, knowledge is power, especially when making speeches and negotiating. So do go further and wait to reap the benefits of successful research at the conference.

2. Understand your topic, its history, and its importance

Keep in mind that the purpose of research is not printing out piles of information; instead, it is generating a your topic. But where do you build the foundation for said interest?

Begin by defining the topic at hand, and understanding keywords mentioned in the SG report. Then, ask yourself, when and why did the issue become of international concern? What are the risks of not solving it? Does it directly violate international law?

Additionally, search for the origins of the issue, as it will enable you to craft enormously compelling solutions that address its root causes.

3. Define the key players

These are the nations that are directly affected by the problem defined in your SG report or are its perpetrators. Find out about their objectives and consider them when thinking of solutions. Ask yourself, what caused this issue to arise? Was it caused by an action from a particular actor in the political arena?

4. Search for the human aspect

Every topic discussed at the UN affects human lives. Thus, it will be your task to identify the demographics affected. Are the victims or perpetrators from a specific country, region, gender, age group or religion? Searching for evidence from primary sources (including journals, interviews, and testimonies) from those affected will boost your interest in the topic, add emotion to your statements, and ensure that you give a name and a face to those otherwise represented by facts and figures.

II. On Mastering Country Policy Research

​1. Understand your country’s demographics

Look out for your country’s population build-up, ethnic majorities and minorities, dominant ideologies, and religious inclinations that currently influence public opinion, as well as your country’s stance on particular topics.

2. Explore its geography, economy and natural resources

Who neighbors your country? Does your nation have friendly relationships with its neighbors? Is it part of a specific regional alliance, economic bloc or political group such as NATO, ASEAN and the League of Arab States, respectively? Is there a drought, famine or a significant financial crisis going on there? Is it in possession of a resource that could be used for political leverage? The answers to the questions above will be instrumental in determining your country’s foreign policy.

3. Immerse yourself in its history and past actions

Looking for the reasoning behind your country’s history, values and pivotal turning points in it – e.g., war, revolution or reform – is very significant to understanding its viewpoints. Additionally, add to your arsenal by scanning your country’s voting records on relevant UN actions, identifying proposals it supported and understanding why they rejected others.

4. Find declarations from relevant actors

Relevant stakeholders include Heads of State, ambassadors, government officials, political parties and pressure groups, the media, and the civilian population. Prioritize the most recent sources, and use a translator if these resources are not available in your language. The statements in them will tell you exactly how your country’s ambassador would address it.

III. On Mastering Committee Research

​1. Know your committee’s powers and purpose

This will guide you in finding solutions suitable to what your committee can do. For instance, a General Assembly committee would seldom impose sanctions or decide upon peacekeeping missions. Avoid proposals that lie outside your powers.

2. Describe your committee’s past actions

Ask yourself, what has the committee already done or supported? When did it discuss the topic previously? Have its decisions been binding? Were they successful? How many countries acted on the issue?

Nevertheless, do not stop here; instead, you must…

3. Analyze past actions

How effectively have UN solutions been implemented, and why? Why have Member States opposed them, if any? Why has previous action been successful/unsuccessful? Getting a grasp of the reasons behind the outcome of UN resolutions will contribute significantly to crafting better reasoned and original proposals.