Open Thinkering


Month: September 2023

Weeknote 39/2023

Polestar 2 delivery

I’m composing this while sitting in my Polestar 2, an electric vehicle (EV) which was delivered as a business lease on Thursday. Right now, it’s early on Saturday morning and it’s charging at the EV charging point in the centre of Morpeth.

In my thesis, I talked about ‘literate behaviours’ and how these change over time. Some of these constitute tiny shifts, while others are huge. Our sense of self and how we understand the world can be impacted by small changes in our digital world. So figuring out how and when to ‘charge’ a car, as opposed to fill it with combustible fuel, moves a vehicle that only had to be mentally tabulated as ‘physical object’ into the digital realm.

Last year, we bought a battery-powered Nest doorbell. Just like our new car, it requires charging. This was novel and something to think about when we first got it. Now, we just get a notification that it needs charging, and then we take it off the wall and plug it in a time when we’re not expecting visitors or deliveries.

I should imagine something similar will happen with our car. Even though I’ve only had it a couple of days, partly to get used to the process, I’ve charged it a couple of times. The first time, I left it, went for a run, came back and it was charged. This time, I’m taking the opportunity to sit and write this while it does it’s thing. We have to learn how to build a life that includes both digital and non-digital behaviours.

Anyway, enough about EVs. I’ve also recorded a microcast about it, for goodness sake: like vegans, it’s easy to spot an EV owner because they’ll tell you. πŸ˜‰

Let’s talk about this week. Work continues to be a bit slower than usual, Laura is away sailing in the Greek islands, and Anne‘s back (and finished her degree!)

While I enjoy earning money and feeding my children, one of the good things is that I’ve had more time to read and write than usual; I haven’t had to cram it in around other stuff.

In terms of reading, I read, and then transferred my annotations to separate notes, when I re-read something recommended to me called Secret Tradecraft of Elite Advisors.This is a short, very direct book which gives extremely good advice about being a consultant (or ‘trusted advisor’ as the author prefers). I particularly liked the suggested mantra that you’re in the expertise business, not the service business. Lots to dwell upon.

And then in terms of writing, I’ve kept up with my daily practice at Thought Shrapnel of commenting on three articles. One of these was the very sad news this week that, in a mindless act of vandalism, the iconic 200 year-old tree at Sycamore Gap on Hadrian’s Wall was felled. The whole area is in shock.

I tend to comment on what ever articles interest me with Thought Shrapnel, and comment on them however I see fit. If you’re new it, though, perhaps sign up to my newsletter to get a weekly overview so you can dip in to posts that interest you. I’ve moved to Substack as of this Sunday, and you can subscribe here.

Here, I published an article which served as practice for a technique I learned on the UCL Systems Thinking short course I did last week. As I mentioned last week, I’ve registered for the Open University’s MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice, so I’ll be starting that in November.

In other news, and for those following the house drama, we’ve decided on the house we’re going to rent. It’s got enough rooms which are large enough for us to operate in as a family, which includes Hannah and I both working from home. The main concerns are that there’s only one bathroom for four adult-sized people, and that the parking situation for two cars isn’t ideal.

That being said, it is a Grade II listed building, and Oliver Cromwell did stay there once. I think you want a little bit of pain in a rental property that you stay in between house purchases. Otherwise you get a bit too comfortable. We’ll see.

Next week, some of the business development John, Laura, and I have done should start to pay off and I should have a bit more to do. I do want to work a bit more on our positioning and value proposition, though.

Autumn has very much arrived in Northumberland which, as I get older, I’m learning to enjoy a bit more by turning outwards rather than inwards. The colours of the leaves on the trees are verging on spectacular.

Seven Samurai and Open Badges

Film still from 'Seven Samurai' (1954)

During the UCL Systems Thinking short course I did last week, I was introduced to three different systems thinking approaches. Partly because it’s the name of one of my favourite films, but partly because it notes the importance of context, I quite liked the ‘Seven Samurai’ approach.

Now, this is possibly less exciting than it sounds. It’s named as such because there are seven things beginning with the letter ‘S’. But still, it seems like a handy approach.

Given that I’ve just registered for the Open University’s MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice, I thought I’d have a go at using the Seven Samurai model. If nothing else, it will allow me to have a good laugh at myself in the months and years to come. Here goes…

Let’s begin with an image of the whole diagram in the abstract, just to get it out of the way. This, no doubt, looks extremely complicated and slightly horrific.

Seven Samurai model with circles and lines

Let’s just break this down by going one step at a time. I may get this spectacularly wrong and, if so, I hope people reading this who know more than me can put me right.

I’m going to use as my example the Open Badges ecosystem, mainly because it’s one of the things I know most about, and it’s evolved during a time period where I’ve been paying attention to it.

The thing to keep in mind when looking at a Seven Samurai diagram is that it helps explain why the deployed system is not the same as the designed system. Also, new problems emerge when systems are deployed, and other systems are required to sustain the developed systems.

Problem 1 (P1) and Context System 1 (S1)

The original Open Badges for Lifelong Learning white paper did a good job of outlining a growing problem (P1) where learning happens everywhere, but isn’t visible:

Without a way to capture, promote and transfer all of the learning that can occur within a broader connected learning ecology, we are limiting that ecology by discouraging engaged learning, making critical skills unattractive or inaccessible, isolating or ignoring quality efforts and interactions and ultimately, holding learners back from reaching their potential.

The Context System here (S1) is all learners, of all types, everywhere on earth. The scope is huge.

Intervention System (S2) and Realization System (S3)

The whitepaper goes on to explain how the Open Badges Infrastructure (S2) can help with this problem:

Thus, badges can play a crucial role in the connected learning ecology by acting as a bridge between contexts and making these alternative learning channels, skills and types of learning more viable, portable and impactful. Badges can be awarded for a potentially limitless set of individual skills regardless of where each skill is developed, and the collection of badges can serve as a virtual resume of competencies and qualities for key stakeholders such as peers, schools or potential employers.

The Realization System (S3) around the Open Badges Infrastructure was the MacArthur Foundation’s grant funding, Mozilla’s technical expertise, and the enthusiastic international community that was growing around it.

Deployed System (S4), Collaborating System (S5), and Modified Context System (S1′)

The Open Badges Infrastructure (OBI) was never fully finished by Mozilla, partly due to funding drying up. A templated, easy-to-use badging system called ‘BadgeKit’ was shelved, and idea of federated ‘backpacks’ where individuals could move their badges around didn’t come to fruition. In other words, the Deployed System (S4) fell short of the original dream.

This caused a problem. The international community that had grown up around the idea were keen for Open Badges to develop further. Some universities started experimenting with Open Badges as, essentially, short courses and/or marketing materials for their longer programmes. They, along with professional associations, became the Collaborating System (S5).

Open Badges was spun out of Mozilla, first finding a home at the Badge Alliance (2014) and then at IMS Global Learning Consortium (2017) β€” which is now known as 1EdTech. As such, the Context System (S1) was now different, becoming the Modified Context System (S1′).

Sustainment System (S6)

In this example, I think that the Sustainment System (S6) for Open Badges were particular voices within the community. Kerri Lemoie, Nate Otto, and Sheryl Grant for example. There were many others. I may have been one.

These community members performed roles such as continuing to work on successive versions of the Open Badges standard, fighting off attempts to water down the orginal vision. Others evangelised the standard and what could be done with it. Still others developed the actual systems that allowed people to issue badges.

Problem 2 (P2) and Competing System (S7)

The Deployed System (S4) being quite different to the design of the Intervention System (S2) led to some problems. (P2) The chief one was that individuals were not as in control of their badges as originally envisaged. Although it was technically possible to move your badges between systems, in practice each issuing platform became a silo.

There were other problems, as well. For example, Open Badges relied on email addresses that people no longer had access to after leaving institutions or organisations. The evidence behind them also was subject to ‘link rot’ as badges work like the web.

As a result, a Competing System emerged (S7) which reconceptualised badges as ‘microcredentials’. Although some of this uses similar infrastructure, there are different developments for example around NFT certificates, blockchain-based credentials, and LERs. These tend to foreground the organisation rather than the individual learner.


Well, that was fun! This was mainly for my own benefit, but maybe you learned something along the way. As I said above, if you’ve used this approach before, or have anything you’d like to point out to help my learning, please comment below.

Weeknote 38/2023

Football stadium with fireworks and flags

Latent in every man is a venom of amazing bitterness, a black resentment; something that curses and loathes life, a feeling of being trapped, of having trusted and been fooled, of being helpless prey to impotent rage, blind surrender, the victim of a savage, ruthless power that gives and takes away, enlists a man, drops him, promises and betrays, and -crowning injury- inflicts on him the humiliation of feeling sorry for himself.

Paul ValΓ©ry

It’s 21:30 as I sit down to write this after a curtailed PS5 gaming session. I was tired, we were losing at Rocket League, and I realised I hadn’t written this weeknote.

A lot has happened this week. Given that this time of the year is always brutal on me from a mental health point of view, this is not to be encouraged. I’m afraid, therefore, it’s going to have to be bullet points, because I want to be showered and tucked-up by 22:00.

This week I’ve been:

  • Completing a short course β€” I booked a one-day course on Systems Thinking through UCL a while ago. I enjoyed the experience on Wednesday, and have decided to register for an MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice, which I’ll do part-time through the Open University over the next few years.
  • Doing more business development β€” things are a bit quieter on the work front than they should be at this time of year. We’ve got some irons in the fire, so hopefully things will be confirmed next week.
  • Deciding to rent β€” after viewing more houses, we’ve decided to rent for a bit and should be putting down the deposit on a house tomorrow. It’s not ideal, especially as we can’t port the mortgage we’d locked in at a low interest rate last year, but that’s life.
  • Getting a delivery date β€” the Polestar 2 I ordered as a business lease arrives next Thursday. I’m very much looking forward to driving it, and have already bought a bunch of accessories.
  • Listing our car β€” our trusty 10 year-old Volvo V60 has been listed via Motorway. It was a very straightforward process, so I’m hoping we get a good price for it and a dealer can take it away this week.
  • Watching football matches β€” I went with my wife and daughter to the England Lionesses game on Friday at the Stadium of Light and saw them beat Scotland 2-1. I was back today to see Sunderland lose to Cardiff 1-0.
  • Switching to Substack β€” from next week I’ll be sending out the Thought Shrapnel newsletter via Substack, as I explained in this post. The last one to go out via old method hit inboxes this morning and can be viewed online here.
  • Publishing a blog post β€” over and above my Thought Shrapnel and social media posts, I published one entitled The Value of Credentials Endorsement. This includes a YouTube video of a webcast I recorded for Digital Badge Academy.
  • Recording podcast interviews β€” I’m not sure we’ve written about it anywhere, but Season 8 of The Tao of WAO will be part of a submission to the Winter 2023 Special Edition of The Journal of Media Literacy. We recorded some interviews this week, and then I edited some audio.
  • Getting my flu jab β€” always an important thing to do, especially as I’m asthmatic. I’m also booked in for a Covid booster next month.
  • Doing client work β€” this was mainly planning and meetings this week. I want to get my teeth into more strategy work, and start applying some of that systems thinking stuff.

Laura is now away for three weeks’ holiday, but Anne is tag-teaming now she’s back after finishing her degree. I guess we’ve got to get things signed and booked and organised. Life admin as an adult sucks.

Photo of fireworks and flags taken before the England Lionesses match at the Stadium of Light on Friday night. It was a sell-out crowd, and it was a great atmosphere.