Basics of Content
This article is part of the Deconstructing MUN: Debate series. Check out the rest of the series below!
Part 1: Basics of Content (currently reading)
Part 3: TBC
In most Model United Nations (MUN) conferences, committee debate remains an integral part of the overall delegate experience. With individual speeches usually being around a minute long during formal committee debate, delegates are constantly pressed for time to not only demonstrate an insightful understanding and evaluation of the topic, but also propose cogent arguments to persuade other delegates.
Mastering the ability to deliver useful and insightful content can significantly strengthen any delegate’s position in committee. Unsurprisingly, chairs too generally look favourably upon delegates who are able to consistently suggest new ideas and comprehensively analyse both problems and solutions.
When preparing for conferences, possessing these aforementioned skills can grant you significant foresight, such as knowing the potential pitfalls in your proposed solutions and how they can be mitigated. Being able to better comprehend the topic at hand and brainstorm solutions are also effective ways to learn more about the topic, especially so for issues that are incredibly nuanced and complex.
Having chaired for several conferences, I have observed that the most fruitful and rigorous committee debate sessions also tended to have delegates who had mastery over content delivery. Overall, a robust debate environment results in a better academic experience for both yourself and your fellow delegates.
So what exactly is ‘good’ content then? Honestly, I do not believe that there is an objective answer to this question, as there are countless variables which might boost or undermine the effectiveness of your speeches, such as stance, lobbying, and the current state of the committee.
For instance, when the committee is engaged in intense discussions over the merits and shortcomings of a particular solution, it may not be appropriate to suddenly introduce a completely new solution. Not only does that risk disrupting the flow of debate, it also may not allow delegates to fully digest your new idea if they remain more engrossed in debating the other solution. Hence, no matter how well thought out your idea is, it might still be lost on the committee, and thus not receive as much recognition and credit.
Even so, good speeches usually follow a set of common guidelines which you can employ to gauge and improve your speeches. By asking yourself some possible guiding questions, you can use these benchmarks as indicators to measure how valuable and impactful your content may be during committee debate.
Have your points been previously mentioned by other delegates?
Has your idea been implemented before?
Is there an underlying reason as to why certain actions have not been carried out in the past?
Can solutions be altered to better fit the context of the problem?
How many ideas or points will my speech cover?
How detailed is my speech going to be?
Which parties are affected by my proposed solutions?
How long will a particular solution be effective or sustainable?
Will delegates be able to engage (i.e. expand on my ideas or rebut my arguments) with me on a particular point?
How do I expect other delegates to respond to my proposed solutions or ideas?
Fundamentally, the assessment of content can be divided into three distinct categories:
1. Understanding Underlying Principles and Stakeholders
It is key that you fully understand the issue in order to advance your country’s agenda and stance. The global issues discussed in UN bodies are often multi-faceted, complex, and contentious in nature, which require countries to cooperate and support each other to resolve these issues through active diplomacy.
In MUN, many topics are phrased in a simple and concise manner, such as “Preventing Digital Misinformation” (SMUN 2019 UNESCO) or “Trade Protectionism” (SMUN 2019 WTO). However, delegates should never just take the topic at face value. Taking the topic of “Preventing Digital Misinformation” as an example, simply thinking of methods to mitigate the spread of fake news is merely surface-level analysis. There are many other aspects to consider when trying to understand the roots of any issues.
Firstly, we need to unpack the underlying principles and fundamentals. Using the same example, we need to consider to what extent should censorship and regulations be put in place to prevent misinformation, and how those would be balanced with the competing need to also protect freedom of speech and expression as a fundamental human right.
Secondly, we need to consider any implications on the various stakeholders involved in the issue, such as governments, media enterprises, and citizens, and what the driving motivations are for these stakeholders. For instance, while the United States government has historically been a strong defender of freedom of speech and expression due to the First Amendment of their Constitution, more conservative countries such as Libya and Uzbekistan may be more supportive of state-enforced censorship as a way of preventing digital misinformation.
In the study guides drafted by your chairs, the critical aspects of the issues are usually highlighted in the “Scope of Debate” or “Main Contentions” section of the guide. Of course, the choice of wording and structure may vary across conferences, according to the preferences of the chairs and the Academics team.
2. Proposing Solutions
The key to proposing good solutions is to ensure that each solution is specifically targeted to address a particular aspect of the issue. It is impossible to find one-size-fits-all solutions to any complex and multifaceted issue, so it is always good to generate multiple solutions that ideally also complement each other.
Using another example, let us look at the topic of “Managing Civil Conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo”. Through research, we learn that the prolonged violence has caused poverty and job instability to remain high in war-torn regions, even driving some civilians to join armed groups just to earn some form of living (Council on Foreign Relations, 2020). Hence, rather than simply listing superficial solutions like sending in more UN peacekeepers, we could attempt more ambitious solutions which address the specific root causes fuelling the conflicts instead.
Solutions must always be realistic and practically achievable. If the committee decides on a deadline for a certain measure to be implemented, ensure that said deadline is reasonable. It may not be realistic to propose that “education will be provided to all Congolese youth within a period of one year”.
To generate more realistic solutions, it is useful to divide possible solutions into those that are short-term and those that are long-term (as well as medium-term if applicable). Short-term solutions tackle the most pressing issues at hand to prevent the situation from further escalating or worsening. For instance, the provision of international aid in the form of money, food, and medical supplies falls under this category by immediately assisting refugee camps with their daily needs.
On the other hand, long-term solutions are usually meant to resolve deeper, underlying root causes through sustained measures rather than a one-off intervention. In this case, improving citizens’ access to skills training over the next five years may eventually allow them to secure new jobs instead of relying on armed groups for income. Even so, this proposed solution is still far from being well-developed due to the lack of sufficient details.
Thus, another way to further refine your solution is to also develop the detailed mechanics of the solution, or in other words, how the solution is going to be actualised. Factors to consider would include a step-by-step process of the solution’s execution, the resources required, where these resources will come from, and who will oversee the implementation of the solution.
To organise a peace agreement in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the committee would need to hash out details such as who will represent the individual armed groups during the negotiation process, which groups to invite, and whether there is a need for a neutral party to mediate the process.
Even though some of your solutions might sound too idealistic at first glance, as long as they are targeted, realistic, and have well-thought-out mechanics, you will stand a much better chance of convincing your committee to support and adopt your solutions. Not to mention, focusing on developing a few outstanding solutions would typically create a larger impact on committee direction than proposing numerous solutions that are ultimately subpar and underdeveloped.
3. Critical Analysis
All proposed solutions to complex global issues will always have their benefits and consequences, intended or otherwise. After solutions have been proposed by delegates, there is still the need to critically analyse these solutions to determine whether they should be included in the draft resolution.
Going back to the aforementioned example, if a delegate was to propose that “education will be provided to all Congolese youth within a period of one year”, there are several ways to evaluate whether this solution is feasible or not. Given that the country has been engulfed in continual bouts of violent conflicts for decades, it is highly unlikely that the government possesses sufficient resources and infrastructure (such as schools and qualified teachers) to meet the sudden increase in demand for education over a short span of time. Furthermore, such a solution incurs a drastic short-term opportunity cost on available funds that may otherwise be channeled to, for instance, providing healthcare for the Congolese people.
Even though the proposed solution does have severe flaws, our analysis has revealed several useful insights about how the committee could progress from here. Now that the committee is aware about the existing shortcomings in resource availability and infrastructure, subsequent proposed solutions can now target these specific issues with enhanced precision and greater attention to detail.
Therefore, proposed solutions can still hold considerable sway in guiding the committee towards a certain direction, even if those solutions were initially lacklustre. As such, if you find that some of these proposed solutions are in fact aligned with your country’s stance, it may be wiser to offer constructive suggestions to build up the solution rather than dismissing it entirely.
Moreover, the same logic applies to your own proposed solutions. It is incredibly useful to critique your own ideas and mitigate, or at the very least acknowledge, any limitations you foresee. In fact, admitting the shortcomings of your solutions may not necessarily be a weakness. It demonstrates that you are willing to set aside your own biases and uphold analytical rigour even for your ideas. As long as you are able to justify why the committee should still adopt your solutions in spite of these shortcomings, and you remain open to accepting constructive feedback, it is safe to say that you are on the right track towards mastering one of the most difficult aspects of content.
To summarise, content in general can be broken down and assessed based on three categories: understanding underlying principles and stakeholders, proposing solutions, and critical analysis. By evaluating your speeches based on their applicability/novelty, significance, and responsiveness, you can then tweak your speech content to achieve greater impact in committee.
In my next article, I will be sharing some frameworks which I frequently use to organise my thought process in a straightforward and easy-to-understand manner.
Council on Foreign Relations. (2020, June 4). Violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. https://www.cfr.org/global-conflict-tracker/conflict/violence-democratic-republic-congo