CIVNET is a worldwide online civic education community composed of civic educators (teachers, teacher trainers, curriculum designers, etc.), as well as scholars, policymakers, civic-minded journalists, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and other individuals promoting civic education all over the world.
Democracy requires a political culture composed of active participants who understand what it means to be democratic citizens. Free and fair elections are no guarantee of a democratic culture, i.e., citizens may be unaccustomed to voting, standing as candidates for elective office, understanding how their government works, seeking out different sources of information to make informed choices, forming advocacy and public-interest groups to influence political outcomes in a consensus-building, non-coercive political system, and creating voluntary organizations to meet societal needs not met by government or the commercial sector. "Civil society" is often thought of as the foundation on which free, non-coercive democratic polities must rest.
Moreover, well-established democracies often witness apathy, atomization, and a dearth of citizen participation and civic behavior when civic values are not properly transmitted, reinforced, and allowed to grow stale.
Thus, civic education at the pre-collegiate and collegiate levels is vital both to emerging and established democracies to ensure that future generations of citizens understand the values, processes, and skills necessary to developing and maintaining a free and democratic political system.
An international coalition of concerned academics and representatives of non-governmental and governmental organizations formed CIVITAS International and helped establish CIVNET to address these needs by raising the profile of civic education, promoting civic education on the agendas of government policymakers throughout the world, enriching the debate on teaching methodology, establishing teacher-training programs, creating and distributing civics lesson plans, syllabi, curricula, text books, and teaching materials, and enabling civic education practitioners to network and share information, ideas, and resources.
In addition to teachers, educators, and policymakers, journalists also have a role to play in highlighting solutions and citizen success stories rather than merely reporting on societal problems.
While CIVITAS International has many activities to achieve these aims, CIVNET is unique in that it provides an international online resource where users worldwide can share resources and information, learn what their colleagues are doing, network with counterparts in other organizations, and find out about upcoming civic education events.
CIVNET was originally designed by Adam Rubinson, of the US Information Agency with content provided by NGOs, such as the Center for Civic Education, the Mershon Center of the Ohio State University, the Social Studies Development Center at Indiana University, and the American Federation of Teachers. CIVNET was first introduced in June 1995 at the first CIVITAS conference in Prague, and has been featured at and updated for several CIVITAS events around the world. Since 1995, CIVNET's content has been upgraded to include materials and information provided by colleagues from many countries, in addition to the CIVITAS network. In 2007 CIVNET underwent a thorough overhaul in order to provide users with new and improved interactive online tools, including forums, blogs, and others.