What is Digital Civics

A Brief Introduction to Digital Civics

Digital civics is an emerging concept. It is grounded in a robust structure of four underpinning pillars: philosophy, history, ethics, and civics. To understand digital civics we can explore these foundational pillars to appreciate a number of key concepts.

The definition of digital civics, put forth by Dr. Estelle Clements and later used in the first digital civics pedagogy initiative, in Dublin, 2010, acknowledges the environment, philosophy and policy discourse at play in the digital age.

Foundational Pillars

Digital Civics is supported by a foundation of four chief underlying pillars: Philosophy, History, Ethics, and Civics. Each of these pillars is informed by robust bodies of scholarship which can work together to better understand and develop approaches for our world.

Digital civics must ground itself first and foremost in a philosophy suited to the digital age, taking into account the implications of the digital environment and consequently, an informational ontology.

Supporting Scholarship: informed by The Philosophy of Information


Digital civics must acknowledge its historical context, the traditions and concepts from which we draw, that can help us appreciate the significance of our current circumstances and offer insight into our world.

Supporting Scholarship: informed by Media Ecology and Memory Studies

Digital civics must explore critical ethical questions, including how ontological change impacts personal behavioural concepts, relational dynamics, and the complex balance of these ethical interdependencies.

Supporting Scholarship: informed by Global Information Ethics

Digital civics must consider its underlying civic infrastructure, including the mechanisms, processes, and ideas for governance, ensuring such civic architecture is aligned with principles of justice and fairness.

Supporting Scholarship: informed by the International Bill of Human Rights

Key Concepts

Digital civics can be understood through appreciation of 5 key concepts, and these key concepts can help to develop digital civics initiatives, like policy or educational programs appropriate for citizens in the digital age.

Fundamental to Digital Civics is an appreciation of the informational nature of reality

It acknowledges the transformations in human life and our world brought about by new scientific breakthroughs and technological developments, and the impact these changes have

It recognises the importance of responding to these changes in ethical and intellectually rigorous ways

It appreciates that we have a long historical tradition from which to draw when addressing these challenges

And, it is grounded in the rule of law, and understands the privileges and responsibilities of a universal rights base acknowledging an entities information state


Digital Civics: the study of the rights and responsibilities of citizens that inhabit the infosphere and access the world digitally

This definition incorporates:

The environment articulated in this definition, the infosphere, is underpinned by Luciano Floridi’s Philosophy of Information (a field that considers the use of computers and the philosophical issues that arise from them). The infosphere encompasses both online and offline experiences, and their interrelationship, representing the complete environment in which citizens live.

The Philosophy of Information also considers the implications of information technologies on our daily lives: how these technologies change the way we understand ourselves as humans, and, as a result, how our own human behaviour changes, including our ethical behaviours.

Digital civics also incorporates an understanding of human rights within a digital age environment, and a level of self-awareness in regards to the ethical behaviours enacted in this environment, including an appreciation of duties, obligations, and rights as a citizen. It aligns itself with the International Bill of Human Rights, and also the European Convention on Human Rights. In specifying ‘responsibilities’ this definition makes particular reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, resolution 217 A (III), Article 29, which recognizes “duties to the community” and “respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society” (UN 217A (III) 29, 1948).

More Information

For a curated list of readings and resources of foundational literature pertaining to digital civics, please see the Readings page

For more information exploring digital civics underpinning pillars and key concepts, please see my work in Philosophy & Technology

For further information about digital civics, you can access my doctoral dissertation.

Images: Philosophy- The School of Athens, by Raphael, Wiki Commons Jic; History- Gravestone of a woman with her slave child-attendant, Wikicommons sailko;  Ethics- Weighing of the Heart, The Papyrus of Hunefer, edited Wikicommons InverseHypercube; Civics- The Spirit of Haida Gwaii by Bill Reid, WikicommonsTony Hisgett.