Nele, who studies International Relations in the 4th semester, and Kaspar, a mechanical engineering student in his 2nd semester, are taking a break. They are taking a break from their work as the awareness team of elbMUN 2023. At the opportunity, they start chatting about their tasks, what they see as their role during the conference, how they are perceived by others and why they initially chose to be part of this team.
Both agree that their main task is to make sure everybody is all right during the conference, whether participants or team members. Therefore, it is essential for them to remain approachable during every elbMUN event in case anybody wants to talk to them in confidence. They also sit in on the different committees and observe their work as well as group dynamics. After the sessions, they approach people personally if necessary. In doing so, they try to find a solution to any issue through conversation with the affected ones. A look from the outside is very important, as it means giving basic attention to problems that may not be of an obvious nature to the participants, explains Nele.
Aike, a member of the conference team, comes into the break room and sits next to Kaspar and Nele. She joins their conversation by telling them how important the existence of an awareness team is in her opinion. For her, it shows that there is actually an intention to notice discomfort and address it during the conference instead of sweeping issues under the rug.
Both Nele and Kaspar agree. This was one of the main reasons for them to join the team. Nele knew that she wanted to participate in elbMUN and found the work of the awareness team super important. In the end, the team does not have much relevance until it is needed, therefore very few people were interested in joining it. Kaspar was shocked by the fact that practically no one wanted to be on the team and directly signed up for it. He wanted the awareness team to have a visible position and to be noticed during the conference.
Of course, this meant that they had to prepare their work very well in advance. They for example wrote the “Code of Conduct”, which can be found in the “Delegates’ Handbook”. This document contains the participants’ responsibilities, rules of debate and on a respectful behaviour as well as consequences in case of misconduct. “We base our work on the principle of respect for diversity, dedication to strengthening multilateralism and international cooperation and we simultaneously require a similar approach from all participants.”, is one of the text’s first sentences.
Nele addresses that there is a third team member, Fiona, which cannot be forgotten when talking about the preparatory work. She cannot be present at the conference, but she is checking the team’s email inbox during the conference in case they get a message via the anonymous contact form. Furthermore, she was part of the awareness team last year as well, wherefore she could contribute her experience when working on preparations like the Code of Conduct.
After reminiscing about the initial phase of the awareness team, Kaspar goes on to reflect on his and Nele's work during the conference. He states that they often discuss when to intervene in a situation. It is not always clear from the beginning whether their help is really needed, or the involved parties can discuss the problem on their own. When do people want the awareness team to help solve a conflict and when is the dispute simply part of the simulation?
This leads them to talking about the core issue they experience during their work. It is a simple question: Who are we really to decide on this? According to them, in the most cases, their job is just to address and problematize already existing issues, showing that something seemingly normal can indeed be a problem and viewed from many different standpoints.
The hierarchical structures of the conference are challenging as well. Of course, a power difference between participants, chairs and team members should exist for a good functioning elbMUN 2023. However, entrenched power structures have a high risk of leading to conflicts. As the awareness team is an institution standing aside from those structures, Nele and Kaspar can talk to everyone in a more neutral and open way, regardless of which role they are holding during elbMUN. They emphasise how crucial it is to talk to chairs, too, when they commit errors.
Nele remembers that the first time they thought about their role during the conference, they supposed not to be needed much since elbMuners seem to mostly be reflective people. However, they do have a lot of work right now. The collision of different cultures, views and personalities always involves a risk. The participants have differing expectations of MUNs, themselves and other people, which can crash and then lead to conflicts. This is precisely why a different perspective from an external institution is of value, reinforces Kaspar.
And even though they have a lot to do, Kaspar and Nele have never had the feeling of not knowing how to go on. Of course, they had to first assess the threshold for when to intervene in a situation. But most of the participants respect and appreciate Nele’s, Fiona’s, and Kaspar’s work. They take criticism and suggestions by the awareness team very seriously and implement it in their further behaviour. There are only few delegates who do not respect the team’s work. But of course, the team can count on the support of the secretariat and executive board at any times, too.
In the best-case scenario, they are not needed, but it is still important that they are there, concludes Nele as their break draws to a close. Kaspar agrees: “Wow, having this conversation was kind of like writing our own self-reflection!”
The break is over. Nele and Kaspar must return to their work.