Recent years have witnessed a ‘democratic turn’ towards active citizen participation in science and technology. The emerging participatory approach has been framed as a critique of a reductionist, outdated ‘deficit model’ of citizen competence, literacy or understanding. Participatory modes of citizen involvement with science are presented as competing rather than complementary in offering a strategy for making science and technology accountable and open to society. We use latent class models to develop cross-national measures of competence and participation, and explore the relation between the two. We argue that the question of how to analyse and assess the role of citizens in knowledge societies should not be an either/or — participation or competence — but a matter of understanding the balance and interconnected-ness of both. We suggest that the idea of a ‘scientific citizenship’ could be a useful integrative notion to bridge the divide between concerns about public participation and public competence.