Sources of existing data which may be helpful for your research

If you are focussing on a particular country, and know very little about your country you can start your research with Wikipedia, the CIA World Factbook or BBC’s Country Profiles. They are fairly reliable for basic data on things like population, history, geography and the economy and help with developing an initial picture of the country that you can confirm or challenge with further research.

It’s generally best not to cite them in your academic work but both will often provide the sources of their data, which you can then use if its reliable.

Other useful places to start are the website of your country’s embassy or mission in Australia and the Australian mission’s website in that country.

  • Note: not all countries have missions in Australia and equally Australia only has them in a limited number of countries.
  • Other types of representation other than an embassy (the highest level of diplomatic representation to a country) are: high commissions, consulates, multilateral missions and representative offices. Sometimes an office is responsible for multiple countries, for example the Australian High Commission, Nigeria covers Benin, Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo, Gambia, Niger and other countries.
  • The US through the State Department is the best represented of any diplomatic services so their websites can be helpful.

Also check out the permanent mission of your country to the UN.


Reflection activity: interview questions

Share the answers to the following questions with the group in the discussion forum.

  1. Which of the data sources mentioned below will be most valuable/applicable to your specific thesis topic.
  2. Explain why.

Statistics and Data

  • The World Bank’s DataBank: The Bank has basic data sheets around economic growth and development on most countries but also through the online database, the World DataBank, you can look up a large range of specific indicators. It is a fairly easy to use, intuitive system and you can compare your country to others (the region, other low income countries, etc).
  • UNDP’s Human Development Index (HDI): The HDI was inspired by the great Indian economists Amartya Sen’s argument that people’s capabilities should be the criteria for assessing the development of a country, not the level of income per capita. It is a single index that combines data on income, education and health but HDI reports have detailed supporting data with information on a whole range of developmental outcomes. There are also tables that adjust HDI taking into account inequality and gender. Plus there is the Multidimensional Poverty Index, which is one of the most comprehensive ways of evaluating the number of people living in absolute poverty around today.
  • UN stats: This site links you to the main UN statistical sources, including a UN online database, which can be searched. I find this database a bit clunky but it may be useful four countries where there is not much information.
  • Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) stats: The OECD is a club for the world’s richest nation-states. There online database is quite good.
  • OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC): If your country is an aid recipient this site will give you data on how much they receieve and from whom. It includes and online statistics database too. Remember this data is collected by aid donors and designed to show the donors in the best light, so you need to be a little cautious about the data.
  • National statistics agencies – your country will have its own national agency equivalent to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Some countries will have at least some of the information available in English.

UN Agencies

Some of the UN agencies are likely to have useful country information or will be useful for focusing in on the particular version of the topic we are simulating in the MUN and that your have to write your country briefing paper on. Below is a list of a few key topics and the UN agency to go to.

A very useful site is the Global Policy Forum, which is an independent organisation that monitors the work of the UN and critically reviews global policy-making efforts. Some of their focus topics are: UN reforms, financing and directions, corporate influence on policy-making, food and hunger and humanitarian intervention.

Global Issues has some good briefs on a wide range of contemporary topics from poverty to global warming, the global financial crisis and the Syrian conflict.

Other Sources

Newspapers can be a great source though be careful of bias and not just in editorials. As general sources:

  • The Economist – limited access if not subscribed.
    • UOW students – access through Factiva (library database)
    • External students – may be able to read it at your local library
  • Strong international coverage:
    • BBC World
    • The New York Times
    • Al Jazeera

Local newspapers in the country you’re studying. If you’re studying a relevant language here is the chance to put some of your skills to the test. If not, many countries will have an English language paper or edition, for example, Indonesia has the Jakarta Post.

There are a range of domestic sources from the country you’re studying too, starting with the government’s official website and they often have an English version with at least some information. One key agency to look up is your country’s Ministry or Department for/of Foreign Affairs (it may also be called the State Department, External Affairs, etc.) because you need to know the country’s official foreign policy. Look for a recent ‘White Paper’ (an authoritative report or guide from the government outlining its current position on a topic), if there isn’t one read through the key issues listed on the websites and look for recent speeches by the Foreign Ministers. Other good domestic sources are local think tanks and NGOs.

  • Look for academic papers analysing the foreign policy of the country you are representing – if you have access to a university or other library, start with their databases. If not start with Google Scholar or try or ResearchGate.

Foreign Policy Making Realist international relations theory historically treated the state as a unitary actor and its insides were a black box. The theory says that foreign policy is simply based on “national interest” (though precisely what this is or who gets to define it is not always clear) and that the state will pursue this coherently through foreign policy. Other theories reject this approach and look at foreign policy making as a contested realm like other areas of public policy. In studying how your country makes its foreign policy, issues you might like to consider include:

  • How do ideational directions in the country, or amongst decision-makers, impact thinking about the issue? For example, consider how norms about human rights, social justice, equality, freedom or individual rights may impact thinking on the topic.
  • How do the material interests of the country impact decision-making on this issue?
  • Where does foreign policy decision-making really lie? It may not be with the foreign affairs ministry, rather lie with the prime minister or president and thus you may need to look at statements from their him/her rather than from the foreign minister.
    • Has “group think” (encompassing the desire to get consensus and to be accepted by the group) limited the constrained the quality of decision-making?
    • Have bureaucratic interests shaped the process and decision?
  • Which other actors (departments, external organisation, media, or individuals inside or outside government) are influential in this debate?
  • How is decision-making done? Is this a separate decision or part of a sequences of decisions being made on an issue?
  • How is the government balancing the demands of domestic and external actors (e.g. allies)?

Source: Valerie Hudson, “Foreign Policy Analysis: Actor-Specific Theory and the Ground of IR”, Foreign Policy Analysis 1(2) 2005: 1-30

  • US data:
    • The United States Census – Its primary purpose is to provide the basis for apportioning seats in the US House of Representatives among the states.
    • The General Social Survey – was created for the express purpose of providing quality survey data for secondary analysis. The bibliography for the American National Election Study [1] includes thousands of entries, the bulk of them employing secondary analysis.


  1. The NES Bibliography . Accessed April 22, 2013.


John L. Korey 2013, POLITICAL SCIENCE AS A SOCIAL SCIENCE, Introduction to Research Methods in Political Science:
The POWERMUTT* Project, [2]