Civic engagement

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Civic engagement is the voluntary commitment of citizens to the achievement of common goals , which is not aimed solely at financial advantages and promotes the common good . In contrast to the sovereign action of the administration or the state , the citizens here take something into their own hands.

Civic engagement is a normatively as well as analytically vague and ambiguous term that is used in various contexts. The biggest of importance includes all work as a voluntary commitment can be understood. The terms used today include the more specific terms such as volunteering , self-help , political participation , political protest or voluntary social work and bring them into a conceptual context.


In 2002, the study commission "Future of Civic Engagement" of the German Bundestag assigned the following attributes to civic engagement:

  1. Civic engagement is voluntary . The civic quality of engagement is determined by self-organization and self-determination of voluntary engagement. Voluntariness corresponds to the change in civic engagement towards shorter-term, less motivationally bound engagement, but it also restricts predictability and commitment and thus in some cases the benefits. The voluntary also with respect to various models of involuntary exposure, such as is discussed civil work .
  2. Citizen engagement is not aimed at material gain . Like gainful employment , it is not paid on the basis of time or performance and therefore does not take place primarily on the basis of payment. In addition to complete non-payment, expense allowances or low payments, such as in the voluntary social year or the voluntary ecological year (FÖJ), are possible.
  3. At least one effect of the civic engagement must be a positive effect for third parties, so it must be related to the common good . However, this does not mean that altruistic motives have to be in the foreground; the motivation for civic engagement can also have a self-reference, such as self-realization motives or forms of the self-help described above.
  4. Civic engagement is public or takes place in public space, since the public is on the one hand important for representing the interests of those involved, creating a culture of recognition and providing information for the activities of those involved. On the other hand, it guarantees transparency, dialogue, participation and responsibility in the organizational forms of engagement.
  5. As a rule, civic engagement is carried out jointly or cooperatively. However, it does not only include commitment in the sense of traditional voluntary work, which above all denotes a highly formalized, long-term commitment and occurs most frequently in sports clubs . Public criticism and contradiction, as well as other new forms of self-organization, are also part of civic engagement, because “being there and against are both part of civic engagement in a democratic community and make up its productivity and innovative strength”.

Civic engagement is therefore always the investment of time, material and / or financial resources that serve to strengthen social cohesion, are oriented towards the common good and can contribute to improving social problems.

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To help shape our social values ​​and norms as well as our institutions is a “voluntary civic duty”. Civic engagement contributes to securing and strengthening the cohesion of society. People and organizations show a common interest in the common good and act responsibly in public space. The civic engagement of the people can be seen in a very broad spectrum of activities and forms of engagement:

The most common expression of this civic action are associations and citizens' initiatives . The report of the study commission “For a culture of co-responsibility” 2012 shows that 46% of committed citizens are active in associations and thus represent the most important framework for civic engagement. With a participation of 14%, citizens get involved in the organizational forms of the churches and other religious institutions. The commitment in the areas of the state or municipal institutions, associations, parties and trade unions as well as private institutions and foundations stagnates in comparison to the last ten years with approx. 4–9% of the committed citizens. Civic engagement often takes place on the Internet: Political and social calls are launched in social networks and distributed by users. Internet platforms have also recently brought helpers together with voluntary initiatives.


Clubs are founded on the one hand to pursue common interests that do not primarily serve the common good , but rather the mutual exchange and common activity of like-minded people in their free time, as applies to sports clubs , migrant self-organizations, collecting clubs or animal breeding clubs ( e.g. pigeon breeders' clubs ).

Other associations have set themselves the goal of serving the general public in a positive way or to compensate for deficits in government action through their own actions by association members. For example, the Red Cross emerged from the voluntary commitment of a few citizens and has developed into the largest welfare organization in the world in over 100 years .

Still other associations have set themselves the goal of promoting social and civic engagement so that more people get involved in society. In the Federal Network for Civil Society (BBE) may be selected include those clubs and organizations and network. The overriding goal is to promote civic engagement in all areas of society and politics.

Citizens' initiatives

The difference between citizens' initiatives and associations lies essentially in the scope of the objective: Most of the time, the aim is to bring about a certain political decision (e.g. the establishment of a kindergarten ) or to avert it (e.g. the construction of a nuclear power plant ). In this respect, citizens' initiatives are almost always politically oriented.

Engagement over the internet

One can also get involved in civic action by spreading positive messages on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter . Internet platforms also help to bring helpers with civic initiatives together. Providers of e-petitions also promise the petitioners that they can make a difference in society.


See also : Value of volunteer work

General social benefit

If citizens become active themselves, this usually has positive effects on society . Even clubs whose members come together exclusively to pursue their own special interests (leisure clubs) reflect an organization that gives its members a certain level of support. This applies more and more to associations that have committed themselves to socially promoting purposes.

Since most of the associations and citizens' initiatives are organized democratically , the citizens here also learn what "lived democracy" means. Processes in “big politics”, which otherwise only become known to them from the media, can be experienced first-hand here; In this respect, the understanding of democracy and the need to achieve goals through one's own concessions through diplomatic action can grow.

Special utilization in the municipalities

Municipal administrations can make concrete use of citizens' resources if they are not given sufficient opportunities in the context of their state activities. A classic example are the fire brigades , which exist as volunteer fire brigades in many smaller communities . Enough citizens come together here whose common concern is the prevention of damage within their community. If, however, there are not enough volunteers together, the community can also decide to set up a compulsory fire brigade and thus make sovereign use of the “citizens” resource.

The co-financing of school facilities by so-called development associations is also based on the voluntary commitment of some, mostly personally affected citizens. Often these associations are not only tolerated but even promoted by the municipal administrations (which have only limited influence on the school equipment because the federal states are responsible here).

Since the 1990s, approaches have been developed to promote civic engagement in municipalities in a variety of ways beyond traditional club funding. The activities in Baden-Wuerttemberg , where the Ministry of Social Affairs and the municipal umbrella organizations in the “State Network for Citizenship” work together with numerous municipalities, cities and districts in order to develop modern support for volunteering, are attracting nationwide attention . Similar efforts are now being made in other federal states as well.

Citizens' engagement is also an integral part of the concept in the global action program Local Agenda 21 and in the municipal local alliances for families .

Engagement groups

Around a third of Germans are volunteers. This commitment is not evenly distributed among the population, but has to be viewed in a socio-structural way. The civic engagement is therefore of different characteristics of the person, such as B. education , occupation , income and gender dependent.

  1. Civic engagement according to employment status and educational qualification: civic engagement is most pronounced among highly qualified people (with a high professional profile). Employed people are also more frequently involved than the unemployed and retirees.
  2. Civic engagement and income: half of those involved receive more than € 4,000 gross monthly; In contrast, only 24% of people who earn less than € 1,000 gross get involved.
  3. Civic engagement and level of education: People with a university or technical college degree are more involved than average, while people with a secondary school diploma are only represented below average. The people who have not graduated from school are the least committed.
  4. Civic engagement and gender: Men are more likely to be more committed than women in almost all age groups. However, this difference is not constant in the different phases of life. The decline in female engagement between the ages of 20 and 35 in relation to the male group is striking.
  5. Civic engagement and age: In the last decade, the middle age group has clearly set itself apart from the other age groups. The commitment of older people between the ages of 35 and 49 increased sharply between 1999 and 2009. On the contrary, the commitment of young people is declining. Accordingly, the level of engagement increases with age; a slight decline is only recorded from the age of 65.

Overall, it can be stated that in Germany, the middle class is more likely to be civic.


Citizens' resources are available to cities and municipalities as “what the citizens can do themselves” if they are only appropriately motivated . The most common forms are citizens' initiatives and associations; their work is usually beneficial to the community, but can be reversed under certain circumstances. Overall, there are signs of a change in civic engagement. While sports clubs used to be the driving force behind civic engagement in Germany, these, like many other organizations, are faced with new challenges in view of the steady decline in voluntary work: maintaining motivation, addressing new target groups and designing internal structures in such a way that they meet current requirements become.


  • Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung (WZB) / BMFSFJ (Ed.) (2009): Report on the situation and perspectives of civic engagement in Germany. Download: wzb_buergerschaftliches-engagement_2009 (PDF)
  • German Bundestag (2002) Report of the Study Commission “The Future of Civic Engagement”. Civic engagement: on the way to a sustainable civil society. Bundestag printed matter 14/8900 (PDF; 3 MB).
  • Gradinger, Sebastian (2006): Service Clubs - for the institutionalization of solidarity and social capital , University of Trier.
  • Heinze, Rolf G./Olk, Thomas (2001): Bürgerengagement in Deutschland - On the state of the scientific and political discussion , in: Heinze, Rolf G./Olk, Thomas (Hrsg.): Bürgerengagement in Deutschland. Inventories and perspectives. Opladen
  • Union Foundation in cooperation with the Saarländischer Rundfunk (publisher): In difficult times. Does more citizen engagement help? . zu Klampen Verlag, Springe 2009, ISBN 978-3-86674-043-3 .
  • Zimmer, Annette (2005): Civic Engagement: Definition, Potential and Limits. Lecture. Download: (PDF)
  • Schmidt, Stefan (2012): Get out of the sidelines !? Civic engagement of people with disabilities in professional football. Unpublished master's thesis. Technical university Dortmund.
  • Federal Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women and Youth (Ed.) (2012a): First Engagement Report 2012 - For a culture of shared responsibility. Engagement Monitor 2012. Download: (PDF)
  • Federal Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women and Youth (Ed.) (2012b): First Engagement Report 2012 - For a culture of shared responsibility. Civic engagement in Germany - focus: corporate engagement.
  • Federal Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women and Youth (Ed.) (2017): Second Engagement Report 2017 - Demographic Change and Civic Engagement - The Contribution of Engagement to Local Development. Engagement Monitor 2017. Download: (PDF)
  • Prognos AG / Generali Germany Future Fund (2009): Engagementatals 2009. Data. Backgrounds. Economic benefit. Berlin, Aachen: Prognos AG / AMB Generali Deutschland Holding AG.
  • Hinz, Ulrike / Wegener, Nora / Weber, Mike / Fromm, Jens: Digital civic engagement. (PDF) Published by the Public IT Competence Center - Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems FOKUS. Berlin 2014.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Rolf G. Heinze, Thomas Olk (2001) Citizens' Engagement in Germany: Inventory and Perspectives. Opladen: Leske + Budrich, p. 14f.
  2. German Bundestag 2002: 86–90
  3. ^ German Bundestag 2002: 32
  4. Schmidt 2012: 15
  5. Study Commission 2012: 9
  6. Zimmer 2005: 3
  7. BMFSFJ 2012: 12
  8. Who we are. Federal Network for Civic Engagement, accessed on June 5, 2018 .
  9. BMFSFJ 2012b: 71
  10. BMFSFJ 2012b: 71
  11. BMFSFJ 2012b: 72
  12. Prgonos AG / Generali Deutschland Zukunftsfonds 2009: 9
  13. BMFSFJ 2012b: 72
  14. BMFSFJ 2012b: 73
  15. Prgonos AG / Generali Germany Future Fund 2009
  16. BMFSFJ 2012b: 73–74
  17. BMFSFJ 2012a: 18