Measuring Citizenship: Suggestions for Tutors

Aims and learning outcomes

The main aim of Measuring Citizenship is to encourage students to consider the difficulties involved in defining the nature of citizenship. We have chosen to ask students to compose survey questions for a number of reasons. First, it forces them to select what they consider to be the most significant behaviours and attitudes they associate with citizenship. This helps clarify their understanding of the nature of citizenship. Second, by connecting this exercise with a review of professional surveys, students begin to recognise how difficult it is to design effective survey questions. And finally, the activity generates a set of questions that allow students to consider their own (and other students’) attitudes and behaviours. Thus it seeks to balance the demands of education about citizenship with those of education for citizenship.

Because of the combination of conceptual work and questionnaire design, Measuring Citizenship can be used in general politics, specialist citizenship and research methods courses. During the lifetime of the project, the activity has been used at a variety of different levels and on different types of courses: from a first-year introductory course on politics, through to a specialist Masters course on citizenship and democracy.

Although some students have found the professional questionnaires intimidating, we decided that it was important to continue using them because it allows students to engage directly with survey materials used in the field and to appreciate the amount of work involved in developing a survey. We have provided a brief summary of the sections of the survey used by Pattie et al to help students navigate their way around the questionnaire. It is probably helpful for tutors to reinforce the fact that students are not expected to read through all the materials – rather the questionnaires have been made available as a resource for them to review.

Component parts of the activity

Task 1 can be used independently of the rest of the activity, particularly if tutors do not wish their students to engage with professional surveys.

The videos in Task 1 can also be used independently in teaching to explore the different ways that citizens conceptualise citizenship.

The materials in Task 2 (the professional surveys) may prove useful for other teaching needs, particularly in relation to questionnaire design on research methods courses.

Delivery methods

The most common approach to using Measuring Citizenship has been for tutors to introduce the activity during a lecture and then students (individually or in groups) have completed the different tasks in their own time before coming together in a seminar to either discuss or present their findings. It is also possible for students to complete the tasks (again individually or in groups) in a seminar where there is access to computers, although a single session does not allow much time for reflection either on the professional questionnaires or students’ own responses to the questions they have generated. A group-based approach to delivering the activity has the additional advantage that students are forced into negotiating a shared set of questions.

The development of five questions could be used as an ‘ice breaker’. Depending on numbers, students are put in pairs, trios or quartets and asked to pool their previously prepared questions and decide on the most rigorous. Once this had been done, each group could then ‘pilot’ their questions using the members of another group for this purpose.


The activity provides ample opportunities for either formative or summative assessment. Perhaps the best example we have is of a first-year course where students were asked to complete the various activities in small groups. They were assessed in two ways: a group presentation and group report where they explained their selection of questions. Assessment could also be in the form of an individual essay/report. Given the reflective element of the activity, it also lends itself to personal development planning. For this purpose, students might be asked to prepare a short essay on how they measure up to their own expectations of citizenship for inclusion in a portfolio of evidence. This would involve them in not only answering their five questions, but also validating their positive answers and giving reasons for their negative ones.

Assessments for more advanced students might involve them in critiquing the professionally produced questionnaires and in discussing the relationship between education about citizenship and education for citizenship.

Developing the materials further

Within the politics discipline, the teaching of research methods to undergraduates is often a low priority. Measuring Citizenship can provide the basis for teaching elements of research methods by focusing on how citizenship can be researched. As it stands, the activity engages students in questionnaire design. An obvious way that the activity could be extended is for students to collect and analyse data using the questions that they have created, thus further enhancing the acquisition of research skills.

Tutors may also wish to use the professional questionnaires as the basis of teaching. Why do researchers use these questions in particular? In what way do these questions relate to theoretical debates around citizenship? Here, the connections between the structure of the questionnaire and the analysis in Pattie et al, Citizenship in Britain could be explored.

If the activity is being used in conjunction with other learning activities on this site, it is well-suited to being either an introductory or concluding activity. As an introduction to citizenship, it allows students to draw on and discuss their existing prejudices towards citizenship and reflect on the rationale behind the professionals’ choice of questions. As a concluding activity, students will be able to draw on the issues raised in other activities and consider the difficulties involved in trying to develop effective questions to capture different aspects of citizenship.

Additional reading

The activity already provides suggestions and access to relevant materials, including the three books listed in the Introduction and web-links to materials related to the European Social Survey, the US CID survey and the Home Office.

If tutors wish to provide a background text to prompt students in their consideration of citizenship, a good starting point is Derek Heater’s What is Citizenship?, Polity Press (1999).