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Substantive Role of the Chair

First Committee Bureau GMUN First Committee Bureau

The Chairman's responsibility is not only to manage the Committee's meetings so that they operate smoothly, but also to take responsibility for seeing that the Committee produces a result that is immediately acceptable to all, or at least an overwhelming majority of delegates.

These are criteria that should be met by every conference and that every Chairman should aim for –although that is at times difficult. They represent a good outcome and a Chairman presiding over a Committee that meets them is entitled to a sense of self satisfaction.

In pursuing his/her substantive aims, as with procedural matters, the Chairman acts as a representative of the entire Committee and his/her actions must be acceptable to it. That support is likely to be forthcoming, as long as the Chairman reflects a good understanding of the wishes of delegations.

In MUN simulations, the Chairmen play mostly a procedural role and their more substantive role is overlooked. Emphasizing the more substantive role of this key leadership position in MUN simulations can greatly enhance the negotation process and lead to more decisions being adopted by consensus.

Key tasks

One of the important responsibilities of the Chairman is to be interested in the substantive outcome of the conference. The Chairman, however, must carry out this responsibility in a manner that maintains his/her impartiality.

Planning and agenda setting

The Chairman must have a clear idea of what outcome is possible and desirable and a plan as to how it can be achieved. Both of these will be subject to constant monitoring and possible revision as the conference unfolds. Their evolution will be strongly affected by the Chairman’s monitoring of the debate and negotiations and what he/she hears in consultations with delegates. But the desirable outcome is more than the sum of the wishes of all delegates: it is also an outcome that is coherent, legally and technically correct and ideally one that will prove sustainable both politically and in terms of its practical implementation.


As long as the conference is proceeding in accordance with this (flexible and evolving) plan, the Chairman’s responsibility is to facilitate its course. If, however, the conference shows signs of stalling or losing its way, the Chairman’s responsibility for the outcome requires him/her to take a more active role that may include encouraging delegations to act in a manner helpful to the conference resuming its progress. As a final resort, this role may require the Chairman to act more directly, for example by convening a consultative group, drawing the conference’s attention to options or making suggestions, based on his/her knowledge and understanding of the wishes of delegations, and the applicable technical, legal and other considerations.

The resources and tools available to the Chairman

In this work the Chairman needs to manage and draw upon a range of resources:

Rules of Procedure

These support the extensive powers of the Chairman (see section on Rules of Procedure where this is discussed in greater detail).

Keeping a Positive Atmosphere

The atmosphere (or mood or ‘chemistry’) of the Committee is another factor to be managed and used by the Chairman. So long as this remains positive and constructive, it is helpful to the conference achieving its objective expeditiously. The Chairman will want to exert his/her managerial skills to keep it as close as possible to this ideal, and to resist any tendency for it to slide into lethargy, animosity or despair which are inimical to reaching agreement.


The Chairman needs to manage the available time, not only with a view to its effect on procedure, but also because of the possible impact on the substantive outcome. Thus he/she may see a need to provide more time for consultation, when this seems likely to broaden the extent of agreement on substance. Subject to agreements with the venue, the Chairman may need to request that debate or negotiations continue in the evening.


The Chairman is the acknowledged leader and representative of the whole Committee. As long as the Chairman retains the confidence of delegations, the prestige of his/her position has considerable potential influence.


As noted above, all constructively-minded delegations will tend to be supportive of the Chairman and willing to assist with information, advice, forbearance and cooperation. The conference secretariat, likewise, assists the Chairman in his/her role as presiding officer in many ways.

For most conferences, the secretariat prepares a scenario, with suggested words for the Chairman to use as he/she makes his/her way through a succession of procedural steps. At times, the secretariat can be seen drawing the Chairman’s attention to a procedural requirement or document to be cited.


The Chairman has a wide range of methods available for use in meeting the challenges of his/her role to secure the final acceptance by the conference of an outcome in accordance with its mandate. Some examples are:

a. The Chairman facilitates discussion and negotiation by providing time for that purpose. If a more active hand is needed to ensure this takes place, the Chairman can:
  • suggest consultations
  • appoint a Friend of the Chair, or facilitator to conduct consultations
  • hold series of separate consultations
b. The Chairman will often influence the course of debate and thus the conference outcome by taking great care to ensure that delegates fully understand the purpose, context and past history of international consideration of the issue. He/she can also influence the outcome by making suggestions as to how the conference or its delegates should approach their work.

c. The Chairman can also step into the role of intermediary or ‘broker of agreement’ between delegations that are at odds, to help them find a satisfactory solution to their differences. This intermediary role can take many forms. It can consist of carrying messages between the protagonists, offering explanations for their respective positions, urging understanding and a willingness to compromise, making suggestions to both parties as to how they can act to advance their objectives and also as to what is realistically achievable.

d. Likewise the Chairman can take an escalating range of roles in ensuring that constructive texts appear on time. These can range from a compilation of agreed texts and square bracketed alternatives proposed by delegations to provide a starting point for negotiation, through the Chairman’s ‘non-paper’ to stimulate thinking, to a ‘Chairman’s text.’ The last is a proposal by the Chairman based on his/her assessment of what may be acceptable to the conference in the light of the foregoing debate and negotiation, supplemented by the Chairman’s consultations.

Matters for careful judgment include decisions on whether to produce such documents and if so, their timing, the extent of prior consultation or forewarning before doing so and the degree of assertiveness with which the Chairman advances his/her proposals.

In all these activities, the Chairman continues to act on behalf of the Committee as a whole and with its consent. This means, that by a combination of frequent consultation, knowledge and understanding of the concerns of delegations and empathy, the Chairman must have a very good sense of what the conference collectively wants and will approve or at least accept.