How Did the Officers Adapt to this Online Conference?

Nicole C., Elizaveta K., and Sofia L.

This is the first online conference in IMUN history and this year’s officers were keen to adapt to an online format. They’ve been preparing for this unusual conference for many months and even though they’ve encountered many challenges, they were determined to make it a memorable experience for everyone. Some of the officers kindly agreed to participate in an interview to share their perspective of the conference.


Although there were some obstacles, there were a lot of benefits to holding an online conference. For example, countries that would previously require a visa to come to Portugal no longer need to do so, meaning the conference is more accessible to delegates. Similarly, the lack of payment required to accommodate flights and hotels for the delegates and MUN directors mean that money was saved and it’s more eco-friendly. 


Two of the most impacted parts of IMUN are admin staff and the newly emerged technology department which has made this conference possible. 

 

The Changes Made in Admin and the New Technology Department

What were some of the pros and cons of Admin in this year's unusual conference?

“The pros of this conference are being able to move this whole conference to the school and not being in CCB like the previous years. There is way less work, no more badges, organizing placards, and best of all saving paper. However, the cons are all the fun from the actual conference is gone. There is no more socializing and being with your friends.”


                                -  Head of Admin: Joana S.

 

    Head of Technology Department: Nicolas P.

What is your role in the conference in ensuring that it works smoothly?

“Ensuring that all technology-related aspects are working properly, so all of the zoom calls are working, or if anyone who needs support, has requests or doubts can get to me and I can reply to them. Pretty much to make sure that all of the technological aspects of the conference work.”

 

Why did you sign up for this role?

“It was a kind of funny story. We were in a meeting and Mr. Grillo was like, “Nicolas, why don’t you do that.”, and I just said “sure, even though I didn’t know what the role actually was.”

 

Do you think that online conferences will become the new normal? Do you think that they can replace in-person conferences?

“I don’t think that they can completely replace them, because there are some aspects that we can’t replace, like lobbying. I think we did the best we could do because they (the delegates) were able to do some lobbying while in some online conferences there isn’t even lobbying, so I feel that by just having it, it’s  already a bonus, but I feel that in the future we would like to go back to physical conferences.”

 

Do you think there are some advantages to having an online conference?

“Of course! First of all, I imagine many of the delegates perhaps couldn’t afford to travel or didn’t have the time If they have other commitments they can still join the online conference.”

 

Are there any aspects of this digital conference that you think should be incorporated in normal conferences? 

"I think that the online approval panel was more effective than the physical one.”


What do the chairs think about the virtual conference?

Which issue do you think is most important to debate?


“I think they’re all vital, but the one that stands out to me is the third issue in the GA (The question of sustainably restructuring medical services and allocating resources to combat future pandemics). Due to how unprepared we were for this pandemic it showed us that we need this type of online infrastructure. We need to be prepared for the eventuality that we’re faced with something that is potentially even more dangerous than what we have now so that we can better contain it, deal with it, and go on with our lives.”


                            -Deputy-Secretary General: Pedro L. 


“Oh, well, since Simon and I are chairing SC, all of our issues are important. In my opinion, the most relevant one is holding member states accountable for their COVID-19 measures. The most important one, in my personal opinion, is the issue of the elections in Belarus, where President Lukashenko came to power by means of election fraud.


                    -   President of the Security Council: Alexander K.

Why were this year's issues chosen?

“We chose health because we wanted to incorporate our current crises but we  also wanted to make it broad and global because the point of MUN is not to focus on a single specific issue, it's to tackle big problems.”  


“We came up with the first issue: The question of implementing economic regulations on the healthcare market to guarantee its accessibility and affordability. Because we thought that this was an aspect of health that is relevant in every single country, both LEDC’s and MEDC’s. Throughout time there’s always been a struggle with accessibility and affordability of healthcare. Every country struggles with this because of lack of funding, maldistribution of funding or even an unbalance in social structure within the countries.”


“We also chose the question of protecting mental health in times of crisis because it’s usually not really talked about and people with mental health issues are sometimes ostracized. For a long time mental health was a taboo topic but recently we’ve seen an increase in discussions and treatments. In this pandemic, we’re seeing that the lockdown has very deep mental effects on people.”
                        

    -  Deputy-Secretary General: Pedro L. 


“The issues that we chose were based on what is currently happening. The first issue of holding member states accountable for coronavirus measures was chosen because some countries excelled in it, like China and Korea. Some countries, like Britain and Belgium, didn’t do as well so we thought it would be an important issue to discuss. The issue of Belarus was chosen because the elections ended just now and the process is happening currently, so it’s an urgent issue.” 


                    -   President of the Security Council: Alexander K.


How do you feel about the conference being held online this year? What are the pros and cons of it?

“I don’t love the online format because the conference and the spirit of the conference has a lot to do with personal interactions. Having seen lobbying and knowing about the nature of the conference, making it online kind of hinders this. Although, I believe that the officer team has done a really good job but it’s still not the same. However, there are some benefits, for example, it makes admin’s job easier and it gives more freedom to delegates as they can be on their computers and search what they want to better the debate.”


-   Deputy-Secretary General: Pedro L.

 

“First of all, the con is that it’s harder to organize the conference and run the conference. A con for the delegates is that it’s very easy to get distracted at home. As chairs, we can’t keep up with who is paying attention. Also, spending a lot of time in front of the computer can be very tiring. Although, the big benefit of having a conference online, in my opinion, is that for delegates that are too shy to speak on the podium, it’s much easier to speak your mind in front of the screen. So more speaking will be involved.” 


                    -   President of the Security Council: Alexander K.


What were some changes that had to be done in order to accommodate the conference online?

“I think the most overwhelming change was the number of chairs that we have in each committee because it came with so many logistical differences in teaching everybody how to deal with technical difficulties. A lot of emails were sent to coordinate with other people and other schools. Making the conference online completely changed the dynamic of the conference.”


                        -   Deputy-Secretary General: Pedro L. 

 

“There was a problem with how the delegates will be lobbying, as we can’t have everyone lobbying in the same call. So, breakout rooms were created. The conference itself is online, so a big thank you to Laura as she had to create IMUN online. It is very different from a conference in person-- everything from lobbying to submitting resolutions.”


-   President of the Security Council: Alexander K.
 

What did you struggle with the most during the debates?

“Keeping the overall confusion to a minimum. This conference has the potential to be very confusing and overwhelming and I think it’s going to be difficult to keep everything organized and on track so that everything goes well. From the perspective of a chair, it will be challenging to keep the debate flowing because there are smaller rooms.” 


-   Deputy-Secretary General: Pedro L.

 

“Probably technical issues. We’ve already encountered some, like during today in lobbying we had trouble creating breakout rooms. We had to wait for Nicolas, our tech support. On Saturday, we’re not at school, so if something happens the conference might get screwed.”


                    -   President of the Security Council: Alexander K.


What are you looking forward to the most?

“I really want to see the different solutions the delegates are going to come up with because I think the questions are fascinating especially because I’m interested in health.” 


-   Deputy-Secretary General: Pedro L.

 

“Probably the debate itself. I enjoyed chairing for JMUN and enjoy being a delegate in general. So I’m curious to see what the delegates will come up with for the issues Simon and I came up with. So I think sharing the debate will still be fun, I’m looking forward to that.”


-   President of the Security Council: Alexander K.

 

Reflections by the Secretary-General of IMUN’s First Online Conference 

How do you feel about being the first secretary-general of IMUN’s first online conference? 


“I feel grateful to have been given this opportunity and that CAISL, as well as the other schools, trusted me to do something that was never done before. I have to admit, I was really nervous because there was no template and no previous experience. However, at the same time, I was intrigued and excited because we could shape it to how the officer team wanted, which was a good opportunity to fix some things that weren't working in the past. Honestly, it's an incredible preparation for the future as our world is moving towards technology. This is an opportunity to learn, to lead, be flexible, and to trust other people, because I couldn’t do it all alone.”    

           
 How is the conference going so far and are you pleased with how it's going?

 

“I am pleased and the two things that made me really happy. First, the delegates, all of them, are being supportive and flexible. The delegates that I’ve interacted with were very friendly. Another thing that made me happy is the chairs,  usually we only have the officers chairing but this year we needed more. The way everyone responded and worked together has demonstrated the incredible chemistry between the chairs, as well as, the immense support shown by the MUN advisors.”


How do you feel about the conference being held online this year and what are the pros and cons of it?

 

“I’ve been doing MUNs for a really long time so whenever I imagined this year’s conference I always thought of it as a physical in-person conference. I think that at first, just like everyone, I felt a little disappointed but afterward, I thought it was a chance to make history.”


Pros
“In a virtual conference everything is faster because there are fewer pauses, since people don’t have to walk to the podium and come back, and counting the votes is much faster as zoom counts automatically even note-passing is more fluid. Everything is much closer so it's not like in CCB in which I need to be running around from one side to the other, it's just clicking different links.”
“It also connects people in ways that physical conferences don't because it allows you to be in your home country and you don’t have to change your routine, the only obstacle is different time zones.”


Cons
“The social side of it I would say is negative because through the screen there’s less empathy. Also, when you’re chairing in a physical conference you can feel when the atmosphere of the room changes. when something is happening, for example, when a motion is passed but virtually you don’t feel that. It’s also harder to control behavior virtually because you don't know what the delegates are doing on the other side of the screen.”


What were some changes that had to be done in order to accommodate the conference online?

 

“More chairs, smaller rooms so instead of having a general assembly with more than 200 delegates we needed to have smaller committees of about 30 people so that Zoom wouldn’t crash. We needed less admin because only one admin per room is needed as note-passing. We had no video, we needed a strong student-led tech team. Press had to make it online instead of having the printed newspaper and the Opening Ceremony didn't have a keynote speaker.” 

“Something I really miss was being with the delegates and it's hard not having the officer team next to you celebrating all of the small victories and supporting each other whenever there's an obstacle.”


What were the hardest challenges you faced preparing or during the conference?

 

“The first challenge is accepting that some things will go wrong since it is a new experience and  you're relying on technology, not just on the officer team. A personal challenge for me was delegating. I like knowing what is going on and being able to have a say on everything that’s done, but in a conference this size , with so many different calls, and since I cannot be everywhere simultaneously, I had to learn to trust others. 


"I think the second hardest part was definitely the lobby. Lobby session is something that isn't done commonly in virtual MUNs, but we wanted to provide delegates with this opportunity. It was very complicated and  we ran overtime. However, all the delegates were very excited and we got many good quality resolutions.”


If we were to change back to in-person conferences would there be any aspects from digital conferences that you'd like to incorporate? 

 

“The approval panel was really efficient and I think that virtually it works much better as it also avoids the crowding of people outside of the CAISL library and missing the bus [usually, the approval panel is done in CAISL, on the day before we head to the main event location, CCB].”
“I don’t know if I would keep it but there are definitely advantages to having smaller committees because delegates get to know each other’s perspectives more and it becomes more personal. I also really liked the concept of a Historical Security Council.”


Closing remarks to delegates: 


“First, remember that  the conference isn't just CAISL’s conference, it’s everyone’s conference because everyone helped shape it. Second, remember the hardships that we faced living through the pandemic and to learn from them instead of shying away from our problems. When they think back to this IMUN conference instead of thinking, “Oh, it was virtual, I could have gone to Portugal” think “Oh, it was virtual and it was an opportunity and I learned from it.” 

 

Sources

Photographs by Eugene J.