Civic education approaches and efficacy (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 947)



What approaches have been taken to civic education programmes, including in school curricula and more broadly, and what evidence is there for their efficacy? What does the literature say about the efficacy of civic education in incentivising civic behaviour in the context of strong financial incentives in society for non-civic behaviour?

Key Findings

This report first presents findings on efficacy of Civic Education (CE), drawing on the work of Steven E. Finkel, who posits that CE must be repeated often; interactive; and given by a respected teacher.

It then presents overviews of the approaches and efficacy of several programmes. A key finding is that the method used to deliver CE is important to its effectiveness; participatory, interactive methods are best-received and appear to deliver better, longer-term results. The process of participating in a session is itself a lesson in democracy, and informal approaches are shown to foster tolerant democratic attitudes towards others. Another finding is that CE tends to improve people’s direct knowledge and understanding of political processes and their role in them, but does not necessarily increase support for democracy or belief in the political system. A final lesson is that CE’s effectiveness in developing democracies is constrained by the lack of resources. Ineffective methods may be used because no alternatives are available.

Thematic findings drawn from the literature are that targeting women specifically or women alone is likely to increase effectiveness for women’s knowledge. Attitudes to election-related violence in Kenya were more tolerant and forgiving among those who had received CE than those who had not, showing a long-term positive effect of CE.

Finally, within the context of financial incentives such as vote-buying, poverty is the main driving factor affecting people’s decisions. CE may raise awareness of the moral issues around clientelism and vote-buying, but people are still likely to take incentives for their votes. Voters are quite likely to take the incentives and vote the way they already intended, indicating that they are not being undemocratic or lacking in knowledge, but acting in their economic interests. CE, therefore, may not be a particularly effective means of counteracting vote-buying.


Browne, E. Civic education approaches and efficacy (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 947). Governance and Social Development Resource Centre, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK (2013) 12 pp.

Civic education approaches and efficacy (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 947)

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