These groups are usually established to look at particular key issues on the agenda. After having introduced an item and given delegations the opportunity to state their opening positions on the matter, the Chair may suggest, on his or her own initiative or at the request of one or more Member States, that the item in question be considered in more detail in a working group. This ensures that important issues are carefully considered by a group of interested Member States while at the same time allowing the Chair to move to the next item on the agenda on the understanding that he or she will return to the deferred item once the working group is ready to report back to the decision-making body or subsidiary body in question.
While the working groups are open-ended, the number of participants to the group will, in practice, vary depending on the number of Member States interested. The Chair of the Plenary often designates a Chair or, if it is a large group or one that deals with a particularly difficult issue, Co-Chair, but sometimes the Group chooses a Chair from among its members itself. Sometimes membership of the Groups is limited (such as those dealing with budgets); sometimes anyone with an interest in the subject can participate. The Chair will normally give a ruling whether Committees are open to observers as well as voting delegates.
In-session Working Groups operate only for the duration of the meeting of the decision-making body. In addition to a Chair, one member of the group is normally appointed as “rapporteur” to present the Group’s findings and recommendations to the Plenary.
Some important issues do not need to be resolved in the course of the meeting, and policy can be developed and solutions found over a longer period. In such cases an Intersessional Working Group might be established to work between sessions of the decision-making body.
Where consensus cannot be reached on an important issue, those delegations with strongly opposing positions are brought together to try to find a compromise. Such groups are sometimes known as “Contact Groups”.
It is quite possible at larger meetings, for several Committees and Working Groups to be meeting simultaneously. This presents a dilemma for countries with small delegations or even just one representative, as it is impossible for them to attend all the meetings. In such cases, it is important to set priorities to decide which Working Group is of greatest interest. It might also be worth working in collaboration with another like-minded country - not necessarily from the same region - whereby the delegate from one country attends Working Group X and the delegate of the other attends Working Group Y, with the two delegates defending each other’s interests.