Reading: Digital citizenship, democracy and civic engagement

As the figure shows, “digital citizenship” is a very wide and umbrella term that includes/refers to many different concepts and that many times causes confusion. In this course, we are focussing on the concept of digital civic engagement, but it is important to shed some light on the different concepts.

Digital citizenship is a broad term that describes "how a person should act while using digital technology online" [1]. Nine elements or themes have been pointed out within the digital citizenship scope: digital access, digital consumerism, digital communication, digital literacy, digital etiquette, digital law, digital rights and responsibilities, digital health and wellness, and digital security.

So, there is the dimension of “competent and positive engagement with digital technologies (creating, working, sharing, socialising, investigating, playing, communicating and learning)", and also the "transversal dimension that involves the values, skills, attitudes, knowledge and critical understanding which citizens require in the digital era" in order to participate “in communities (local, national, global) at all levels (political, economic, social, cultural and intercultural)" [2] (p. 16).

In summary, participation in the digital world involves two types of skills: 1) hard skills, "how to use ICTs in an effective, efficient and safe way", and 2) soft skills, related to "socio-relational and emotional competences"[2] (p. 40). For all of this, digital citizenship should imply a lifelong process, given the fact of the changing world and technology.

Digital or E-Democracy can be simply defined as "the practice of democracy using digital tools and technologies" [3] (p.11), which can include more ‘passive’ digital democracy for citizens to be informed, towards a more ‘active’ one, where citizens take a participatory role in their communities' political decisions.

E-Democracy is composed of three elements or dimensions: e-Government, e-Transparency, and e-Participation [4]. In this latter is where the concept of digital civic engagement is inserted:

Elements of E-Democracy. Source: Elisa Lironi (ECAS, 2021).

Other authors point out the importance of social networks in order to enhance democratic processes since they allow users to have their own voice and comment 'in public' on relevant issues and can influence policy outcomes, as long as user participates in the debate in a pacific and respectful way [5].

Digital civic engagement can be defined as civic engagement activities that involve digital media of some kind, "a repertoire of practice that falls under ‘digital citizenship’ and that assumes and requires ‘digital literacy’ in order to happen" [6] ( p. 7). In other words: in order to participate online to change something you need the digital skills to do it.

Additional tasks and resources for explorers

1. Do you remember the changemakers and how some of them use digital tools for a change? Find more inspiring practices in UNICEF report of Digital civic engagement by young people: Look at Section 5 and the 4 snapshots of examples of digital civic engagement by young people.

For a better understanding of what is e-democracy, watch this inspiring TED Talk: Pia Mancini: How to upgrade democracy for the Internet era.


[1]  Richardson & Milovidov (2019). Digital citizenship education handbook: Being online, well-being online, and rights online. Council of Europe.

[2] Frau-Meigs, D., O’Neill, B., Soriani, A., & Tomé, V. (2017). Digital citizenship education: Volume 1: Overview and new perspectives. Council of Europe.

[3] Simon, J., Bass, T., Boelman, V., & Mulgan, G. (2017). Digital Democracy. The tools transforming political engagement. Nesta.

[4] Elisa Lironi, Crowdsourcing EU Legislation (2021): Harnessing the Power of Digital Democracy. In A. Alemanno and James (Eds), OrganCitizen Participation in Democratic Europe - What next for the EU?, (pp. 73-92). London; New York: ECPR Press. 

[5] Richardson, J., Milovidov, E., & Schmalzried, M. (2017). Internet literacy handbook-supporting users in the online world. Council of Europe.  

[6] UNICEF (2020). Digital civic engagement by young people.

Last modified: Tuesday, 14 June 2022, 1:05 PM