Civic Competences

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Civic competences enable people to act responsibly in society and to interact with other individuals according to values like transparency, openness, social responsibility, and human dignity. In contrast to other (transversal) competences, they refer to democratic values which are not self-explanatory. For example, involvement can be understood in a different way - some groups of people involve in illegal practices and neglect democratic principles. In contrast the word “civil” refers to the common good and shows us the difference between ethical involvement and involvement in practices of the "black side of civil society".

Contributing to a Civic Culture

People become active in society in order to have an impact on decision-making and in this way they contribute to a specific "civic culture". With Almond/Verba we may define civic culture as all "attitudes toward the political system and its various parts, and attitudes toward the role of the self in the system."[1]

While Almond/Verba introduce a distinction between the political and other social subsystems (like economical, religious, civic, etc.), other theoreticians find it more useful to broaden the definition including time and the dynamics of social processes, as well as to reflect on the 'bigger picture' by taking into account society as a whole: "In exploring the origins of a political culture it is necessary, for example, to treat both the historical development of the system as whole and the life experiences of the individuals who currently embody the culture."[2]

Therefore, political and civic culture describe the internal map of a society which includes attitudes, traditions, institutional cultures, passions, structural decisions. "[...]The traditions of a society, the spirit of its public institutions, the passions and the collective reasoning of its citizenry, and the style and operating codes of its leaders are not random products of historical experience but fit together as a part of a meaningful whole and constitute a intelligible web of relations."[2]

In this perspective active citizens and their actions are embedded within a specific civic culture and thus they contribute to a bigger aim: the change within civil society, private attitudes, as well as political and economical systems.


Relevant Competency Frameworks for Learners...


...and for Educators

Competences to Act as a Citizen

Under democratic perspective the education goal in regard to citizenship is that people from all ages, all social backgrounds, and representatives of all social systems need to develop such civic competences. Different definitions therefore prioritize different aspects (see also on Competendo: Citizenship Education: Definitions.

The three here mentioned definitions are explaining the similarities (a focus set on the factual ability to participate in the society) and also their differences, originating in different institutional goals:

OSCE: Emphasis on Achieving Individual Potentials

Civic Competences are those specific competences which equip changemakers to act publicly considering "democratic values" and the goal of "sustainable development" of a society.

"These values imply both that individuals should be able to achieve their potential and that they should respect others and contribute to producing an equitable society." [3]

In the current PISA Global Competence framework this was further elaborated as "young people’s role as active and responsible members of society, and refers to individuals’ readiness to respond to a given local, global or intercultural issue or situation." [4]

European Union: Shift from knowledge toward participation

The EU Key Competencies for lifelong learning define citizenship as a competence in the 2018 revision as "the ability to act as responsible citizens and to fully participate in civic and social life, based on understanding of social, economic, legal and political concepts and structures, as well as global developments and sustainability."[5]

This marks a shift from a more knowledge-centered understanding of citizenship education ("Civic competence, and particularly knowledge of social and political concepts and structures")[6] in the first version from 2006 toward the concept of active citizenship.

Council of Europe: Emphasis on Human and Democratic Rights

The Council of Europe treats "competence for democratic culture" as the main subject of "Human Rights and Democratic Citizenship Education".

These educational practices therefore are "equipping learners with knowledge, skills and understanding and developing their attitudes and behaviour, to empower them to exercise and defend their democratic rights and responsibilities in society, to value diversity and to play an active part in democratic life, with a view to the promotion and protection of democracy and the rule of law. [7]

The competence model itself sets is goal as enabling "citizens to participate effectively in a culture of democracy."[8]

Individual Competence

We emphasize on three very broad aspects of individual competences that seem to be crucial for the functioning of a democratic civil society. This implies that other democratic attitudes or structures within the civil society are based on these attitudes and competences. They are complemented by the other universal aspects of key competences.

The Inidividual's Ability to Share and to Receive

In his historic reflections on “Democracy and Education,” John Dewey cited two qualitative criteria for a citizen's “democratic” education. First, he states that people must have the ability “to receive and to take from others,” sharing a huge number of common values and interests. Acquiring civic competences means creating inclusive and equal communication and structures – giving new colleagues and other interested parties the opportunity to gather information, to participate, and to discuss their own concerns.[9]

Second, Dewey pointed out that democratic societies have to "break down external barriers; to bring peoples and classes into closer and more perceptible connection with one another". People need to "change their social habits" to develop the "fullness and freedom" with which a democratic group seeks interaction with other groups.

In this perspective, civic education and civil engagement are also a framework, where we can try to change our habits and to learn to share and also to negotiate diverging interests.

The Ability to Bonding and Bridging Social Groups

Robert Putnam uses the term “social capital” to describe how a society’s interpersonal communication leads to positive outcomes: “to call attention to the ways in which our lives are made more productive by social ties.” [10] Social capital is describing the value which is created through interaction and linkage between citizens. One insight deriving from this approach is, that a society needs not to look only to its mechanisms to gaining economic growth. It has also to take care about a vivid civil society, the space, where citizens voluntarily and deliberate organize themselves from the grassroots.

Putnam identified to types of social capital. Bonding social capital is good for “undergirding specific reciprocity and mobilizing solidarity.” It is generated by joining existing relatively homogeneous structures or sub-systems.

Bridging social capital is generated by joining a heterogeneous social environment, “for linkage to external assets and for information diffusion.”[11] In order to change something, one must step outside one’s own group and solicit others’ consent.

Respecting and Practicing Human Dignity

One basic assumption of humanism is that all people and creatures have a special value and that we should harbour fundamental respect towards all living things. Therefore, we see each individual’s rights and opportunities for social participation as the focus of our moral system. We consider individuals to be seeking self- realization, to be in touch with the purposes and beliefs behind their behaviors and their intrinsic motivation is activated when they feel these behaviors and beliefs to be in harmony.

Making a Difference: the Crucial Role of Initiative for Change

Like a competence model itself puts emphasis of practical qapplication of experience and knowledge, a civic competence model should include the aspect of engagement and initiative. For democratic education this implies, that not only democratic teachers but especially the learners themselves are playing a crucial role. Civic education in that sense supports citizens in organizing themselves (self-organization) and actively climbing the ladder of participation.

Most clearly the EU's EntreComp framework is emphasizing on the crucial role of initiative: "Entrepreneurship is when you act upon opportunitiesand ideas and transform them into valuefor others. The value that is created can be financial, cultural, or social."[12]

The term entrepreneurship itself is in the context of civic education sometimes misleading, since the main goal of the framework is not economic literacy or ability. Rather one could speak of proactivity, active citizenship, successful initiative, or participation, which all lead in consequence to social, cultural, or economic impact - in the best case also to social innovation.

In order to achieve this, learners need to be able to learn from experience, failures, or challenges (together). Furthermore, they require educators which are giving them enough space for such ‘learning by doing’ including learning to draw conclusions out of their activities and to plan their further steps of learning.

In the EU context this crucial competence is defines as Life Competence: The "personal, social and learning to learn competence". The EU competence framework for this competence is called LifEComp. It includes three areas:

LifEComp - Personal, Social and Learning-to-learn Competence

Personal Area This area is dealing with issues of self-regulation, gaining flexibility, and also physical and psychological well-being

Social Area This area relates to the ability to be empathic towards others, to communicate, and to collaborate.

Learning-to-learn Area Growth mindset (belief in one’s and others’ potential to continuously learn and progress), critical thinking (a condition for drawing conclusions independently and to create solutions), and managing learning (planning, organising and monitoring one’s learning journey)[13] & [14]

Core aspects for civic competency curricula

Political and civic education are particularly important here. Active Citizenship Education can support an individual, group or as well on institutional level the efforts of citizens in actively shaping their society. Under this perspective educational opportunities need to take the micro and macro perspectives into focus, the individual competencies as well as how they deliberate in social structures and values. Especially education can...

  • work respectfully on individual competencies and support individuals to discover and describe their visions and needs.
  • ensure clarity and a greater effectiveness by giving individuals and groups a view of systemic connections, to describe their actions and influence on wider society as social impact.
  • promote and discuss democratic principles and how they are or should be included in specific cases, in rules or relations. Particularly, by making the democratic attitude of the individual the focus of training.
  • help develop Robust Civility (T. Garton Ash) as a condition of democratic public life. Beyond beeing able to make use of free speech, citizens should also be encouraged to manage conflicts peacefully even in challenging circumstances, and to transform political hostility into pacified disagreement.
  • encourage dialogue across systemic and social boundaries, help forge new coalitions, generate bridging social capital and therefore contribute to social trust.
  • focus on active participation and the ability to climb the higher steps of the ladder of participation.
  • provide media literacy and digital competence, helping with the use of communication technology and how to process and produce information (critically). Furthermore, prepare citizens on making use of digitalization as a fundamental social process.

The Role of Facilitators and Teachers

What is your priority? What do you think about democracy, civil involvement, and social change? These questions lead to the conclusion that facilitators and teachers are also important actors in citizenship education. As responsible and democratic citizens they practise education in a democratic way and bring those practices in their organizations and educational institutions, thus contributing to a more democratic corporate culture. Furthermore, they equip learners with these skills by facilitating civic competences.

The way to do it can be, to center your educational format which can be a school lesson, an activity or a program around the aspects of civic competences which are crucial in your context - and which your students identified as crucial conditions for their becoming involved and feeling equipped to act.


  1. G. Almond, S. Verba: The Civic Culture. Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations, Princeton 1963
  2. 2.0 2.1 L. Pye, S. Verba (Ed.): Political Culture and Political Development; Princeton, 1972 (2. edition) ;p.7
  3. Organization for Economic and Cultural Development: The Definition and Selection of Key Competencies
  5. Council Recommendation of 22 May 2018 on key competences for lifelong learning; ST/9009/2018/INIT; OJ C 189, 4.6.2018, p. 1–13
  6. European Union: Key competences for lifelong learning (old version from 2006).
  7. Council of Europe: Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education
  8. Council of Europe:Competences for Democratic Culture]; p. 17
  9. John Dewey: The Democratic Conception in Education; 1916; chapter 7
  10. R. D. Putnam: Bowling Alone. The Collapse and Revival of American Community; New York 2000; p.19
  11. Putnam; p. 22
  12. Margherita Bacigalupo, Panagiotis KampylisYves Punie, Godelieve Van den Brande: [https:/ EntreComp: The Entrepreneurship Competence Framework]
  13. aena, F., Developing a European Framework for the Personal, Social & Learning to Learn Key Competence (LifEComp). Literature Review & Analysis of Frameworks, Punie, Y. (ed), EUR 29855 EN, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2019, ISBN 978-92-76-11225-9, [], JRC117987.
  14. Sala, A., Punie, Y., Garkov, V. and Cabrera Giraldez, M., LifeComp: The European Framework for Personal, Social and Learning to Learn Key Competence, EUR 30246 EN, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2020, ISBN 978-92-76-19417-0,], JRC120911.

"Competences for democratic culture enable citizens to participate effectively in a culture of democracy."

Council of Europe