How can we measure global citizenship skills post 2015?

In the third of our series of guest blogs on the five proposed outcome-oriented post-2015 global education targets, Bryony Hoskins, senior lecturer at the University of Southampton, looks at the challenges of measuring citizenship knowledge, skills, attitudes and values.

In today’s climate, where economic competitiveness dominates the education agenda, it is exciting that UNESCO is proposing that one of the seven post-2015 targets of education progress could focus on global citizenship and sustainability skills.

Policy debates have often sidelined the need to ensure that learning contributes to social cohesion and democracy. So establishing indicators for citizenship may help to motivate countries’ commitment to this policy field. In addition, it can provide evidence that enables civil society and the media to put pressure on governments to act. This was my experience when leading the development of citizenship indicators within the European Union to monitor education goals.

We first created the active citizenship index, which measured adults’ engagement in civil society, community and political life, and their democratic values, using European Social Survey data. We then created a civic competence index, which measured young people’s qualities as active citizens. The index combined four dimensions: attitudes towards social justice; citizenship knowledge and skills; participatory attitudes; and citizenship values.

We used the results of the 2009 International Civic and Citizenship Education Study (ICCS) of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). The map shows the results for the attitudes to social justice dimension of the civic competence index. Young people living in countries highlighted with green colour had more favourable attitudes towards social justice. The analysis was extended to several middle income countries in East Asia and Latin America, like Guatemala and Indonesia, which also participated in the 2009 ICCS.

Attitudes towards social justice in Europe among 14-year olds, 2009

Using this experience, I provide a four-step guide to creating an indicator on global citizenship, and then address some of the challenges involved.

In cooperation with the relevant stakeholders, the first step is to agree on a working definition of global citizenship. Like many social science concepts, definitions of citizenship are contested, but if a pragmatic approach is taken then an agreement can be reached. A definition of global citizenship would typically refer to universal human rights and tolerance towards diversity. The 2013/4 EFA Global Monitoring Report identified the importance of education for human rights and tolerance, and identified several key ways that education contributes to society: building the foundations of democracy, protecting the environment and empowering women. Such dimensions could be used as the starting point for the definition.

The second step is to identify the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that underpin the concept. For example, the European Union civic competence indicator consisted of four dimensions, one of which was attitudes towards social justice. This was measured by responses to questions on gender equality, democratic values, and tolerance (equal rights for different ethnic groups and for migrants). A definition of global citizenship could be founded on similar values. In addition, a sense of efficacy – that one can make a difference – would be relevant. Trust in the United Nations and participation in non-governmental organisations on human rights issues could be taken as signs of democratic engagement. Knowledge of human rights could be considered a foundation for these attitudes and values.

The third step is to identify what data already exists, to work with international data providers to improve the measurement instruments, and to encourage countries to participate in the process.

The fourth step is to create the indicators. A single indicator would probably not capture the depth and complexity of a concept such as global citizenship, so an index with several dimensions would be worth considering. Another approach would be to develop a dashboard of different indicators. This would reflect more detail but may not gain the same degree of policy attention.

Finally, research needs to be undertaken to explain why some countries obtain higher levels than others and to identify strategies for enhancing global citizenship and sustainability.


Wide differences in countries’ wealth, experience of democracy and cultural attitudes mean that the same questions in surveys may not be equally relevant across countries. For example, in rich countries and some middle income countries, purchasing a product that causes less harm to the planet or is based on fair trade may be an indicator of global citizenship skills, but these indicators would not be relevant in countries where people have less choice or money. All countries need to be involved in these decisions to ensure that the indicators selected are relevant and equivalent.

Data availability is another challenge. The datasets are always limited in terms of timing, country coverage, and coverage of the skills measured. If you wait for the perfect dataset the indicators may never be built, so a healthy dose of pragmatism is crucial.

Finally, it should always be taken into account that indicators provide only the first step towards understanding and comparing countries’ levels of skills. More in-depth and qualitative studies are needed to determine what helps or hinders the acquisition of these skills in order to ensure that they are fully realised by one and all after 2015.

– Read the rest of the series – Measuring progress in education outcomes post-2015 



  1. This is an important area for all citizens.Though difficult to develop indicators for all categories of skills since a whole population may reflect different levels of needs depending on the socio-economic stages of individuals and communities. The right to vote may help the democratic needs and ability to change the rulers this process may not provide all what citizens demand . Hence to develop indicators for major areas that reflect / influence the needs would be about the best way to get about in this complex. D.S.B. Ekanayake Ph.D former Basic Education Advisor UNESCO/UNHCR Afghanistan

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