A Model UN committee has many different states with divergent interests, all of which would like any final decisions to go their way. In order to manage tensions and allow the conversation about an issue to proceed fairly and efficiently, Model United Nations conferences are conducted according to formal rules of procedure. These rules govern the process of decisionmaking, regulating who can say what and when.
One of the best explanations of rules of procedure is available on the UNA-USA website. However, note that your conference will have its own, specific rules that might differ from other conferences. (For example, click here for an example of the National Model UN Rules of Procedure).
To watch a Model UN committee operate according to formal rules of procedure, watch the following video:
In the following, we outline in detail the process you will likely encounter in Model UN committee. Since there is much jargon and technical terminology, we recommend reading through the Model UN Glossary compiled by UNA-USA.
Opening Formal Session
Your committee will open in “Formal Session”, which is the most regulated form of conversation that will occur in a Model UN conference. All of you will be in delegations of one or two people; each delegation plays the role of representatives of a Member State or Observer in the United Nations. The Delegates will either be seated in rows or around a conference table, facing a Dais, a table where the Chair of the committee and his/her staff will sit facing you. The Chair manages the decisionmaking process of the committee and is the final judge over disputes about that process. S/he works to make sure it is fair, timely and efficient.
The Chair will open the session officially and deal with preliminary business. This will include taking attendance (in which you stand up with your placard and declare “The [Your State’s Name] is Present” — see the video below), setting the Speaking Time (sometimes this is set by the conference in advance), electing possible additional staff and seeking volunteers to serve as Pages (to collect and distribute notes throughout the committee room).
After this, the first important task is setting the agenda. The Chair will open a Speakers List — the order in which States will speak during the session — asking committee members if they would be added to it. Each delegation will have been issued with a Placard, a piece of cardboard or plastic displaying their State’s name. To be added to the Speakers List, you will be asked to “raise your placard.” Raise it horizontally, so the Chair can read it. The Chair will then invite the delegation at the top of the Speakers List to the front of the room (or to a microphone) to deliver a formal speech, within the 30-90 seconds of Speaking Time on the order in which the committee should address the committee topics (this is not the time to deliver your policy recommendations — only to explain which of the agenda items is most urgent or most likely to achieve consensus). See the below video produced by Pace NYC Model UN students demonstrating how to get on the Speaker’s List.
At some point in this agenda-setting process, a delegation is likely to make a Motion. A Motion is a proposal about the process of decisionmaking (not policy). In this case, a delegation will likely make a Motion to suspend the rules formal debate for the purpose of a Caucus (see below)to discuss the agenda. In this Caucus, you should aim to learn what other delegations believe should be the order of the agenda, persuade them to follow the order you would like and compromise where necessary for consensus-building. We recommend that when the Chair asks if there are any Motions “on the floor” (meaning, “does anyone want to make a Motion?”), you raise your placard as often as possible to get recognized and noticed. By making Motions to open or be added to the Speakers List or suggesting a suspension for caucus you will likely stand out as a delegation committed to the process of the committee.
Eventually, you will return to Formal Session, in which your delegation should make a Motion to set the Agenda in a way that suits your interests. Other delegations will probably do the same. Your Chair will then have you vote (see below on voting) on your preferred order of the agenda. Note that if you made a Motion, you must vote in favor of it.
Sometimes the agenda is set quickly, but in some committees — particularly when contentious topics are being discussed — this can take several hours. It may take multiple formal debates and informal caucusing sessions before a Motion can get the majority it needs to pass the committee.
Formal Debate on Your Topic
Once you have an agenda, your Chair will move you into a formal debate of the topic the committee selected first for discussion. S/he will reopen the Speakers List — if your delegation is not already on the list, then make sure you request to be added. You may do this by raising your placard when asked by the Chair, or you can send a note to the Chair, asking to be placed on the list.
When Formal Debate is in session, you are not allowed to have side conversations (even with your delegation partner). The best way to communicate with other delegates is by passing notes. Many conferences will set up a system of volunteer Pages who will collect the note from you and deliver it to its intended recipient. In formal session you will also not be allowed to interrupt the proceedings or speak without raising your placard and being recognized by the Chair. There are several Motions that may be used to interrupt debate, such as making a Point of Inquiry, Point of Personal Privilege, Point of Information or Appeal of the Chair’s Decision (Click here for explanations of these Motions). However, we strongly advise you to avoid making such Motions as they interrupt the flow of the committee and tend to irritate your Chair and fellow Delegates. It is usually better to send a note to the Chair outlining your concern.
During the Formal Session, the Chair will return to the Speakers List, inviting each delegation to give a speech in order that they appear (for advice on how to write and deliver such speeches, click here). Listen carefully to what other delegations say in these speeches, as it will give you a sense of the various positions in the room, commonalities between different States and potential areas of disagreement. Send notes to the other delegations complementing them on their speeches, asking for clarification or indicating your agreement with them, where appropriate.
At some point, the slow progress of Formal Debate will be constraining and so either you or another Delegate should make a Motion to suspend the meeting for the purpose of a Caucus.
Caucuses suspend certain elements of the formal rules of procedure to allow more informal and participatory discussions. They enable you to speak more freely and with a smaller group of people. There are two kinds of Caucuses you may encounter in a Model UN conference. The first and most common kind is an Unmoderated Caucus, sometimes simply called a Suspension of the Meeting. A Delegate will move to suspend the meeting for a specific amount of time (e.g. one hour). The Chair will put this to a vote and, if it passes, suspend formal rules of procedure until a stated time (e.g. 3pm). You will then be free to move about the room (at some conferences you will even be allowed to leave the room altogether) and meet with other delegations to discuss the topic at hand or begin to draft resolutions. Note that even though formal rules are suspended, you still must act diplomatically and respectfully. Make sure you are back in your seat five minutes before the end of the suspension, because Chairs get annoyed when they have to corral Delegates back into Formal Session. See the video below:
Some conferences also allow for Moderated Caucuses, which allow for the committee to have a less formal, yet still structured debate, usually about a specific aspect of the topic. The speaking times for moderated caucuses are usually shorter (30 seconds or less) and rather than a Speakers List, delegations are simply recognized by the chair when they put up their placards.
Once you have discussed the topic in both formal and informal sessions and have a sense of the scope of views on it, you can begin drafting Resolutions (or for some committees, Reports or Treaties)with other delegations. Note that conferences do not allow you to bring pre-written resolutions to the conference. The point of the Model UN simulation is to engage in negotiation and consensus building to develop global policy with others. This means that no resolution should be the work of only one delegation. Good resolutions should reflect the views of the majority of the committee, incorporating the views and interests of multiple States.
Initially, you will draft Working Papers with other delegations, listing them as Co-Sponsors if they helped write it and/or agree with everything that is in the document. your Chair will likely ask for delegations to submit their Working Papers for editing and review. S/he will probably make suggestions or comments on language or may suggest you merge your paper with another one that is similar. At this point, it is relatively easy to amend and redraft your paper to accommodate others’ views.
Once s/he is satisfied with the Working Paper, the Chair will accept it as a Draft Resolution and give it a number. In most conferences, you will need a certain number of Co-Sponsors and Signatories before the Draft Resolution can be discussed on the floor of the committee in Formal Session. Signatories do not necessarily agree with the substance of the Draft Resolution, but would like it to be discussed and/or voted on. Once the Working Paper has been accepted as a Draft Resolution, it cannot be changed, except through an Amendment.
The Chair will often then allow each set of Co-Sponsors to present their Draft Resolution before the committee and may allow them to answer questions from the body, or move into Formal Session or caucusing to allow for debate. During this time, Co-Sponsors try to gauge the likelihood that a Draft Resolution will garner sufficient votes to pass. If they are worried that it will not, then they will try to find compromises and Amendments that will help it pass.
There are two kinds of Amendments. When all of the Co-Sponsors agree on an Amendment, it is called a Friendly Amendment and will be accepted by the chair without debate or a vote. S/he will merely notify the committee that the Draft Resolution has been amended by the co-sponsors and read out the new language. If a delegation agrees with the overall substance of the Draft Resolution, but wishes to change it in ways that one or more Co-Sponsors do not like, they can offer an Unfriendly Amendment, proposing changes to certain parts of the document. These Unfriendly Amendments will be voted on during voting procedure (see below). For more information on Amendments, see the UNA-USA website.
Most Model UN conferences work toward Resolutions. However, a few will instead write reports or treaties — these have slightly different procedures that your Chair should explain in the first session.
For more about writing resolutions click here. For committees producing reports, click here; for treaties, click here.
Eventually, toward the end of the conference, when you have a set of approved Draft Resolutions, the Chair will guide you into Voting Procedure. The Chair will either introduce the Draft Resolution him/herself or ask one of the Co-Sponsor to move it from the floor.
The Chair will then oversee the a voting process that will determine whether the Draft Resolution and its Amendments have the approval of a majority of the committee. During Voting Procedure, no one may enter or exit the committee room, so make sure you have already gone to the bathroom and are in the room on time. In voting, your delegation may vote For or Against a Resolution or Amendment, or you may Abstain, if you prefer not to take a position.
There are a variety of ways the votes may be counted, including:
- Acclamation: The Chair simply asks whether there are any objections to the Resolution; if there are none it passes automatically.
- Voice Vote: The Chair may ask “all those in favor say Aye” and “all those against, say Nay” and make a judgment based on the volume of the two sides.
- Placard Count: The Chair asks delegations to show their vote by holding their placards vertically in the air. S/he may call it, if it is clear, or request his/her staff to count every placard for and against.
- Roll Call: In particularly contested votes, the Chair may call on each State and ask them to state their vote.
Some conferences may allow the committee to decide on what type of voting procedure is used. In others, the Chair decides for the committee.
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