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Researching your country and topic
Developing and using good research skills are an essential part of any Model UN experience. The success of a Model UN largely depends on the preparation work that you have done, both in learning about the issues that will be discussed, and about the country that you are representing.
A Model UN event is an opportunity to see what cooperation between states could achieve, and also to see why the international community has not solved all the world’s problems. This is why you should be ready to reflect the real views of the country you represent, even if you disagree with them. Only then can you understand the complex reasons why the world is the way it is and what has to change to make it better.
Notes on sources
It is very important to learn to spot bias in the information you read, especially online. Always bear in mind the origin and purpose of your source. Check to see where they get their money, who makes up the advisory board or leadership of the organisation and their stated aims.
Some sources may give accurate information, but only about their narrow area of focus. For example, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) is an excellent source of information about environmental issues, but not useful if you are researching health problems.
Researching for a Model UN is a three step process:
Step 1: Learning the basics about your country
You should cover at least the following issues:
- Head of state and/or government
- Type of government
- Major allies and enemies, including membership of intergovernmental organisations
- Broad overview of religion and culture
- Internal and external conflicts
- Other special concerns related to your committee’s topics and/or area of expertise
Places to visit:
- The US CIA World Factbook provides up-to-the minute facts about your country and is very useful for finding statistical information.
- The BBC website produces country profiles which are useful as a starting point.
- The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (‘FCO’) produces more detailed country briefings.
- The UN Cyber School Bus site produces basic and advanced information on all the member states of the UN, enabling you to compare different countries. The site also provides information about individual countries.
- Get a feel for the type of country that you have been assigned by searching for programmes or books about ordinary life in that country. You may even wish to find blogs written by people who are living in the country or doing development work to get a personal perspective on life in your country, although you must remember that the information you find will only represent one person’s experience.
- If you know someone from your country, talk to them!
Step 2: Learning about your topic
Always start with the delegate guide - this should give you a better idea about which aspects of the topic your organisers would like you to discuss. Read them thoroughly and use the links that are provided.
- Google (or your other favourite search engine). Always evaluate the online sources that you find but, in general, the internet is one of the best places to find up-to-date information for Model UN preparation.
- Online article databases. Search news magazines (e.g. Newsweek, Time, The Economist) or newspapers for well-written and up to date information.
- UN agencies. Most UN agencies (like the UN Development Programme or the UN Children’s Fund) issue yearly reports on issues related to their area of expertise, which may include information on individual countries. Choose the agency which is most relevant to your committee’s topic. Click here to find an organisational diagram of the UN.
- NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) are an invaluable source of information that is usually independent from governments (although not free from bias, generally). It is highly likely that there will be an NGO that does work and research on your issue.
Step 3: Combining what you know
This is the hardest part of preparing for a Model UN conference, but also the most important. It consists of taking what you know about your country and what you know about the topics and using both sets of knowledge to understand the perspective that you will be representing.
You might get lucky and find that your country already has a clearly stated policy on the topics that you are discussing. Good sources for this are:
- See the website of your country’s Permanent Mission to the UN in New York or Geneva.
- Look at the website of your country’s Embassy or High Commission (if they are a member of the Commonwealth) in the UK. Also check your country’s embassy in Washington D.C., in Brussels or in the capital of your former colonial power because these are often the largest and have the best websites. Your embassy in the USA will probably have an English website. If you cannot find the information you want, email or write to one of the diplomats at the Embassy or High Commission and ask very specific questions about the country’s position on the topic to be debated. You are more likely to get helpful responses if your questions reflect that you have already done some research. The FCO has a list of foreign missions in the UK, together with website and contact details.
- Search for the website of your country’s relevant central government ministry. Be aware that ministries may have a different name to that which you expected. For example, the US equivalent of the FCO is the Department of State. Also, a single Model UN issue may straddle many ministries. For example, internal water issues in the UK may fall under the Home Office or the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; external water issues may fall under the FCO or the Department for International Development. A helpful starting point is this website, but also use search engines.
- Newspapers in your country
- NGO groups working in your country may discuss government positions on an issue
However, it is possible that you will not be able to find official information on your subject. This is when things get harder. You will have to think about the relationship between the subjects and your state policy, based on your best (and highly informed) guess.
The best method is to ask yourself questions:
- How is my country affected by this issue?
- What is my country’s relationship with states that are especially affected by this topic?
- How has my country voted on similar issues in the past?
- Does my country have special religious/cultural concerns that may lead it to have a specific stance on an issue? (This can be especially useful on human rights topics).
Think about the connections between your country and your topic during this process. Be willing to listen to others who know more about either your topic or country. As long as you play your role with confidence and tact, other delegates should respect what you say.