Hindsight 20/18: OMUN
Aug 19, 2018 • Strangely Relieved Matt Wang • ~ 16 minute read • 1924 words
Note: since I wrote this post (and after I left OMUN), I’ve personally lost control of the omun.ca domain, and the rest of the stuff I reference. I’ve replaced the links when necessary.
I’ll keep this one short too - I don’t have much else to say that I haven’t already talked about in my WAC short essay - OMUN bears many of the same stories that WAC does.
Before I get ahead of myself, OMUN stands for Ontario Model United Nations - a Model UN conference that’s held at Upper Canada College (aka my high school). During the three years that I worked there, I had two major responsibilities: I was a Committee Chair, which means that I ran a Model UN committee (the intricacies of which I talked about in my MUN post), and I was the USG Communications, which basically meant that I did all the tech-related stuff (website, design, and a few apps). I’ll do a quick split and talk about both of those experiences.
Note: this won’t make sense if you haven’t done MUN or know about how it works. However, I still believe in you!
I quite enjoyed being a committee chair. Initially, I’ll admit, I was an awful chair - in my first year at OMUN (also the first year that OMUN existed), I chaired a crisis committee called 9-Eyes. Mind you, this was only my second year of doing Model UN - and I had only been to six conferences - so I didn’t think it made sense for me to be a chair. I wasn’t wrong - while I think I did an alright job of moderating discussion and moving the committee forward, I definitely could have done a lot better. Part of that was because of our team’s inexperience - the crisis director, my vice-chair, the crisis staff, we all had only two years of MUN experience. Yet, the staff also carried me - my crisis director especially did a great job of picking up some of my slack and keeping the committee passable. Looking back on it, I’m rather disappointed that I wasn’t a better chair - sure, there wasn’t too much that I could’ve done in the moment, but I know I could have provided a better experience for the delegates.
As an aside, I also think I did a poor job adjudicating - the awards that I would have given now vastly differ from the awards that I had given then. The more interesting thing is that very few people cared - something that surprised me, and proved to me that adjudication in Model UN needed a lot of work.
Fresh with the pain of being a bad committee chair, I threw myself into the next year’s chairing responsibilities. I had much more experience under my belt (I won every conference I went to that year), and I tried to model what we did after the best high school conferences in the North American circuit (McGill, Harvard, and Berkeley). Along with the same crisis director as last year, we ran the ICIJ - a group of journalists responsible for leaking the Panama Papers (and more broadly, keeping the world accountable). I went ham both in prep and in committee, and I was much prouder of the result. I felt like we ran a committee that could justifiably be “Ontario’s Premier Model UN conference”, and an experience that was genuinely enjoyable for our delegates.
That year was the peak of my MUN commitment. In my graduating year, I toned down my MUN-related obligations: I only went to one conference (SSUNS), and didn’t particularly focus on being competitive. Interestingly, I didn’t make this same decision with OMUN, still looking to provide the best conference experience possible, but it did change my perspective on how to run the committee. I didn’t aim to copy HMUN or BMUN’s style - rather, I ran my committee the way that I wanted my committees to run. I doubled down on the educational aspect of Model UN, I skirted many MUN conventions to stimulate debate, and I kept the tone light.
We ran the Chinese Politburo (the highest body in the Chinese government), a topic that I loved researching and still love reading about. With my Crisis Directors, I wrote a 19-page background guide - the longest that OMUN has ever published! Each bit of it was meticulously written (and I had to cut about 8 pages for the final draft), and I truly did put in some blood and sweat. We recorded a few videos and dubbed them over with my voice to plan out our crisis arc, and we prepared a lot of comparatively high-quality crisis materials ahead of time.
That committee was by far the best one I had ever run. Sure, there were still mistakes with my chair-ship, but it was an event that I was truly proud of - something that I could put my Matt Wang stamp of approval on. That committee, with all of our fun antics and heartwarming feedback, is my favourite memory of OMUN.
To contrast, there aren’t many fond memories I have of being the USG Communications for OMUN II, and III. Yet, being the “tech dude” for OMUN comprised most of my experience there - and it’s by far the more important work that I’ve done. As I leave UCC, this’ll be what I remember about OMUN.
Traditionally, the USG Communications manages some website on some CMS and updates information. For OMUN I, that stayed the same - we stuck with some terrible Wix website and I hated every minute of using it. However, it gained a new role that year - as we switched away from having UMUN and OMP running concurrently into just having OMUN, we needed to completely redesign all of our print materials. Since that job was a natural fit for me, they kind of just roped me into doing it too - something that bit them in the ass later on.
I think I did an alright job with OMUN’s design - I didn’t put nearly the same effort into designing OMUN’s print materials as I did for WAC, but it makes sense: it’s a smaller event, has less prestige, and there’s little competition with other high school conferences. That doesn’t mean that I did a bad job - I always put in my best work when doing something - so I stuck with a simple but usable design system.
In the first year, I just focused on getting a solid foundation: I centralized everything into the Adobe ecosystem, focused on using a very simple yet consistent colour palette and font set, and just did things on time. I made a Delegate Guide and Folder (in a very similar design to OMP’s previous work), and just cruised a bit. It did give me some perspective on just how hard the work that Nick and Derek did with WAC - working as a one-man team, I found it very hard to come up with a complex design system that looked good.
Similar to my chairing experiences, I really kicked it off in my second year at OMUN. I iterated on the design from the previous year, but I took a lot more initiative in how the conference could get better. Firstly, I leveraged the software tools that we had at our disposal - previously, OMUN would just use Microsoft Word templates and call it a day. Instead, I used Adobe InDesign’s Data Merge feature, which lets you create a template of a design and then create many copies of it with information from a spreadsheet, to make nametags and placards that felt professional. I also moved the site away from a crappy Wix-based shithole (and I use that term very heavily) to a super fast, Jekyll-based static site + online registration (instead of snail mail). Similar to WAC’s system, that made life a lot easier, and made an (almost) seamless pipeline from delegate registration to conference materials.
I also ended up testing out the Ionic Framework to make an app for the conference: one that would tell you the schedule, committee information, and allow you to contact your chairs. It was my first attempt at using Ionic (and AngularJS), and I rather enjoyed it. I built an API into the website (statically generated with Jekyll) that publicly displayed all the conference info, which the app then pulled from and internally stored/rendered. The project ended up being bogged down in administrative issues and never became a realization, but I was happy that I made something that could be used in real-life.
I got a lot of positive feedback from my work that year, which felt nice. It almost counterweighted all the work that I had to do, as a one-man designer/developer/get-things-done-er. I’ve made a similar point about those burdens in my WAC thing, so I won’t repeat myself too much.
For my final year, I took the gas pedal off of breaking new changes and just looked to make everything more reliable. The registration system, admittedly, could be a lot better (à la WAC’s spanking new Firebase system) but I kept tinkering away, and I really solidified the designs and made the conference pop.
I also made Fair Chair, an Electron and Angular based desktop app that provides utility to conference chairs, keeping timers, speaker lists, and topics all on one screen. I technically started development the year before, but this is where I made something that was production-ready; it was good enough that I felt confident putting it on the OSX App Store. I’m quite proud of it, even though I think that it could be much, much better - but that’s a conversation for another day. Fair Chair is pretty low on my priority of things to work on, but it’s a project that I could see myself maintaining for quite a while - even if I’m leaving the MUN scene.
Now, I just have to work on documentation - because as I leave, there is nobody taking my place. Broadly, that’s representative of a huge problem at UCC (and at many other schools): as students cycle in and out, it’s not possible to guarantee the longevity of technology that needs to be maintained. It sucks to see a website that I spent so much time optimizing get scrapped for another crappy Wix website, but that’s the reality of student organizations - and of a MUN club that has nobody who knows how to code. I’m writing down everything I’ve done for OMUN in a nice little website (design.omun.ca), if anything just to immortalize all the hard work that I’ve put in.
And therein lies my largest issue with OMUN. I feel as if I’ve done immeasurable amounts of work for the organization, poured my blood, sweat, and tears into it - and it’s all gone. Sure, my work will be documented, and sure, my code is on GitHub, but it really feels bad to see most of your work get scrapped because nobody else can pick up the torch.
But it also teaches me a lesson - that I need to balance cool new innovations with longevity, that sometimes it’s more important to think about the long-term lifespan of things that you make rather than making a technically awesome program that’s a nightmare to maintain.
It’s a form of compromise that the United Nations would be proud of.
Until next time!