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Dispatches from the badge-o-sphere

When I started work on HPass, I was completely new to the concept of digital badges. A few years later I feel like a fully-fledged member of the badging community (yes there is one!), and this year attended two conferences completely dedicated to badging – the ePIC Conference in Lille, and virtual CU Boulder Badge Summit. So why are some people so enthusiastic about badges? And what did I learn about the badges of the future? 

Badging is about more than badges 

It’s not the badges themselves that are of interest to people within the ‘badging community’, but the possibility of expanding the scope of the learning, skills and experience that we value and recognise in our societies. Essentially, people who work with digital badges are values -driven, and want to ensure that skills recognition is available to everyone, regardless of how their skills were attained (and certainly not restricted based on ability to pay for education). They believe badges should enable you to tell your complete personal learning and development story.  

At the ePIC Conference this year the strength of this shared social agenda came across very strongly, from the Clock initiative which offers formal certification for skills gained through industry and community work, to Edupass, Luxembourg’s nationwide initiative recognising school and extracurricular achievements. This chimes with the values behind HPass, and our focus on recognising humanitarian experience and action as well as knowledge, an agenda we continue to pursue.  

But does everyone buy into this agenda? 

There is an ongoing debate pitching micro-credentials against open recognition (which took the form of an actual trial of microcredentials at the ePIC Conference…). The rancour centres around whether microcredentials (which are smaller badged units of a university degree) divert the original purpose of badges which is to recognise skills gained through non-formal as well as formal channels. My personal feeling is that badges should encompass all kinds of achievements as part of an overall learning journey – it’s important that non-formal learning and experience are recognised, but also that academic qualifications are accessible to people that need to work whilst studying.  

Capturing a learning journey in a badge wallet 

According to badge expert Nate Otto at the Badge Summit, ‘wallets’ are the next big thing to help you showcase that journey – essentially a portfolio of badges which enables you to demonstrate your individual skills and achievements and your wider commitment to learning and development. This is heartening because HPass has been designed that way from the beginning, enabling humanitarians to gather badges from over 30 sector learning providers on a myHPass profile. Sharing a badge in a wallet also increases verifiability.  

Trust registries – ‘how do we know which badges are good?’ 

More positive news for HPass – we will likely see the emergence of ‘trust registries’, ie institutions that can verify badge quality. HPass is something of a pioneer in this area as it already offers the possibility to be certified against the HPass Quality Standards. We are currently developing a more light-touch ‘Self-Declaration of Quality’ for all HPass badge issuers to sign and make public.  

Badges make our skills visible to human and robot recruiters 

Drawing on presentations from experts Nate Otto and Julie Keane, there are some big developments which in future could make badges not just visible to employers, but readable for automated recruitment purposes. Whilst completely automated recruitment seems a bleak prospect, there are benefits to having a granular, verifiable record of the actual skills you have demonstrated, both for traditional and more futuristic recruitment processes. ‘Rich Skill Descriptors’ may provide just that, by enabling badges to be linked to detailed skills descriptions each hosted at an individual url. In the humanitarian sector this could be used to demonstrate how badges link to skills outlined in competency frameworks used by multiple organisations (for example the frameworks for Child Protection or Education in Emergencies, hosted by the CPHA and INEE respectively). Nate Otto specifically predicts ‘widespread use of common skills and competency frameworks across many issuers’ which in our sector could promote increased consistency across organisations in how skills are recognised.  

Something to look forward to… ‘the mundane, offbeat or absurd’ 

Once again quoting badge guru Nate Otto, ‘use of badges for services that seem mundane, offbeat or absurd will signify mass uptake of the badge as a medium’. Whilst I am personally looking forward to seeing absurd and offbeat badge examples, HPass will of course remain true to its purpose of badging humanitarian skills, experience and learning. I think we will nevertheless stand to benefit from the absurdity, which will support widespread familiarity with the badge format, an appreciation of the detailed information it can convey, and its social potential in promoting the values of a sector or community.  

Esther Grieder is a staff member at the Humanitarian Leadership Academy and leads on the HPass initiative.