Open Thinkering


Tag: Open Recognition

Recognising oneself through the recognition of others

A person looking in a mirror with strapline: "How do you see yourself?"

Most of the stuff I write here and elsewhere comes as a result of the work I do, or the thinking about the work I do. This includes the “what-ifs” and the “imagine a world” scenarios. I try to write them as best I can, but my main objective is to get the words out there so that a) people can read them, and b) I’ve got a URL to point people towards.

Last October, I published a pair of posts on the WAO blog about using Open Recognition to map real-world skills and attributes. I spent a lot longer on them than usual, especially the second one:

I obviously didn’t get the elevator pitch quite right, because although I had a few conversations with people, it didn’t get as much traction as I envisaged. What I’m proposing is a kind of open discovery engine for talents and dispositions. It includes a way to recognise these through Verifiable Credentials, and to tag them in a way that make sense across different frameworks and rubrics.

In a spectacular example of burying the lede, my main reason for writing this post is to share some of the nice things people said about me as part of the experiment.

There were three main questions to which people in my network responded:

  1. What do they know a lot about?
  2. What are they particularly skilled in?
  3. What behaviours do they exhibit which you, or others, find useful?

The (anonymous) quotations below are taken from the above, with square brackets added to help them make sense, or to add context:

As a former teacher and senior leader, along with a Doctor in Education, he know a lot about Education as a business and how people learn. He also has a strong interested in badges and certifications. He is also big into the open economy, working for Open Source companies like Mozilla and Moodle.

He is an exceptional speaker and has the ability to breakdown complicated topics into layman’s terms.

[Doug is particularly skilled] making sense of complex systems and processes, writing clearly and engagingly, building consensus and community.

[I find it especially useful that he has a] passion for learning, daily, sharing always and enabling others to accelerate their understanding through the shared learning.

I’ve always seen him as an all-round thinker, which in turn helps him to ask poignant questions to tackle a challenge.

[Doug is] helpful, open and honest.

He is Open both in he thinking but in how he lives. He is collaborative, works well with other people. Likes to workshop ideas and bring products/services to life.

Open sharing. Transparent knowledge resource. Inclusive. Non-judgemental. — As a result, the impact of engaging with Doug Belshaw is an indirect endorsement of the work I do.

Doug is not judgemental and asks the right questions. He doesn’t have a set answer in his mind to fit your answer into preconceived ideas he has. He can often share useful resources or ideas which can help develop my own thinking processes. Forthright and although a peaceful person, he is not afraid to be upfront and challenge when there is reason to.

Doug is the person that I most associate with open digital badges. He is also someone that is genuine and open and incredibly accomplished. He has a way of explaining things that sticks.

Timely and well organised. Brings the best out in people.

Doug’s thoughtfulness as a facilitator and team member is only matched by his sharp wit in his blog posts. Thought shrapnel for the win!

[Doug has an] ability to succinctly summarise conclusions from a group of people. Interested in other people and charismatic.

I’m not sure how useful any of this is for other people, but it’s cheered me up on a day when I’ve got less work on than usual. Ideally, I would know who wrote these things, be able to thank them, and then turn them into badges 🙂

Image: CC BY-ND Visual Thinkery for WAO

TB872: Communities and networks

Note: this is a post reflecting on one of the modules of my MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice. You can see all of the related posts in this category.

DALL-E 3 created abstract image of Communities of Practice (CoP), artistically representing the concepts of collective learning, the evolution of involvement in CoPs, and the 'middle way' between groups and networks within the context of CoPs.

As we near the end of Part 1 of the TB872 module, we encounter something which I could write about all day: Communities of Practice (CoP). I’m going to reference some recent writing I’ve done and workshops we’ve run through WAO, partly to help jog my memory, but also to find again easily should I need it for one of my assessments:

There are other ones, which are more adjacent to this which are more focused on Open Recognition, especially Using Open Recognition to Map Real-World Skills and Attributes (Part 1 / Part 2). I’m surprised that those latter two haven’t had more interest and the ideas in them taken up, but I digress.

Before going any further, it’s worth defining what a CoP actually is:

Communities of practice are formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavor: a tribe learning to survive, a band of artists seeking new forms of expression, a group of engineers working on similar problems, a clique of pupils defining their identity in the school, a network of surgeons exploring novel techniques, a gathering of first-time managers helping each other cope.

‘Introduction to communities of practice’ (2022), 12 January. Available at: (Accessed: 25 November 2023).

CoPs all have the following:

  • Domain: there has to be a shared identity defined by a commitment to a ‘domain’ of practice. Being a member of the CoP implies some kind of commitment to this domain, as opposed to being a member of a ‘network’. Being part of the domain doesn’t necessarily confer ‘expertise’ but rather what Wenger and Traynor call a “collective competence”.
  • Community: somewhat obviously, a CoP has to have members which engage with one another with the domain. They talk with one another, sharing information, helping each other, and (crucially) they actually care about their relationships with one another. Sometimes drawing a boundary around a CoP is difficult, because it’s not based on job title, or visiting the same online forum as someone else; a CoP depends on interaction and learning. Even if the actual practice that people do is solitary (e.g. hiking long-distance trails) there can still be a vibrant CoP around it.
  • Practice: the ‘practice’ is what the members of the community actually talk about and help each other with. This goes beyond a community of ‘interest’, as members of a CoP are practitioners. They are not merely people who all like the same things. For example, the Taylor Swift fandom could be a Community of Interest, but if they start actually doing stuff together (e.g. collecting memorabilia, creating a database of performances) then they may start edging into a CoP. The important thing isn’t necessarily that people realise that they’re engaging in a practice within a community in a given domain — I’ve been part of lunchtime discussions in staff rooms as a teacher which could be considered a CoP.

The course materials ask us to reflect on our experiences of being part of communities as opposed to networks. One image that’s stuck with me since 2006 is from Stephen Downes, who drew out the following at a conference in Auckland to illustrate a point he was making:

Photograph of whiteboard with black and red pen, sketching out the difference between a group and a network.
‘Groups and networks’ (25 September 2006). Available at: (Accessed: 25 November 2023).

This was very much the Web 2.0 era, and the very next day he followed up with a post reflecting on the pushback he’d got from some quarters:

It took exactly 24 hours for someone to propose a “middle way” (this is what passes for innovation these days). “Could there be “middle way” or “third way”? Something that would be between the ‘closed groups’ and ‘individuals in open networks’?”

It will soon be noticed that a person can be both an individual (and hence a member of a network) and a member of a group. That they can belong to many networks and many groups. That any number of ‘middle ways’ can be derived from variations on this theme.


The core of the issue is whether learning in general should be based on groups or networks. Everybody says, ‘learning is social’, and thus (no?) must be conducted in groups. But networks, too, are social. Learning can be social and not conducted in groups. Where to now, social construction?

The reason I share this here, other than the fact that Stephen has been a critical friend to my work for almost two decades, is that one could see the concept of a CoP as a ‘middle way’ between a group and a network. That is to say, there is a boundary, so it is group-ish. But it depends on people interacting with their full identity, rather than being subsumed into the group, and therefore is network-ish.

The assignment that I’m responding to in this post asks me to:

Review your own experiences of communities and networks in relation to your practices and plot them in some way, possibly using a timeline or a spray diagram. Discuss with others, possibly on the module discussion forum, whether and how these groups have been important to you in helping you improve your practices. If networks and communities have not been a significant part of your experience or if you do not consider them important to your practice, consider whether increased involvement and networks is desirable or feasible in relation to your practice.

As I’ve known for 15 years, the way my brain is wired not only means I get migraines, but I also am mildly synaesthetic. In my case, this means that I see time very visually, which, I understand from talking with other people, isn’t “normal”. I see it as a bit of a superpower, being able to zoom into different periods of history. It’s not that I get to choose how to represent it, that’s just how my brain works.

All of this is by introduction to my timeline of the CoPs to which I think I’ve belonged. The timeline is how I see the period from about 2000 to now, in my head. For some reason there’s always a ‘turn’ at the end of a decade. I’m never sure why it goes the direction it does. As my wife says, I’m weird.

(tap to enlarge)

It’s important to note that this is meant to be in some way three-dimensional. There are no ‘peaks and troughs’. I could have spent longer on this to try and get the colours to overlap and interact with one another, but life is short.

I’m currently a member of the Open Education is for Everybody (ORE) and we’re currently working on an Open Recognition Toolkit (ORT) to be launched at ePIC 2023. This is what CoPs do: they come together to talk, share information, and create resources. By doing this, members encourage one another.

Reflecting on my membership of different communities, I turned from a lurker into an active community member due to the specific invitation of someone to start posting on the School History discussion forum. That was a revelation to me, as I then had a community beyond the walls of the school in which I was working. It transformed my practice, and the ‘audience’ for the work I was doing went beyond the stakeholders of my organisation (a school) and into the wider world.

Likewise, this set the scene for sharing my work openly on my blog and via Twitter, which is the best CoP I’ve ever been part of. It’s easy to consider social networks to be, well, networks but they can foster people coalescing around hashtags, and around practices such as online chats on particular topics at certain times. There’s a boundary that can be drawn around the practice.

My volunteering for Mozilla led to being employed to them. I still go along to MozFest and would consider myself a ‘Mozillian’ which, I guess, is part of a community identity — even if it has changed quite a lot over time. One of the most fulfilling communities I’ve been part of has been the Open Badges community which has morphed into Open Recognition when ‘microcredentialing’ sucked the life out of the original vibe.

And then, of course, there’s We Are Open, the cooperative I co-founded with friends and former colleagues in 2016. This has been a wonderfully sustaining organisation for me, starting off as a part-time thing, and then evolving into something I do ‘full time’ (for some definitions of ‘full’). This is very much a community of practice as we work together on a daily basis, evolving what we do as we learn from each other, our reading, and our work.

In closing, I’d note that the CoPs I’ve been involved in have had a ‘boundary’. That’s what gives them the domain of practice. Membership has been clear, as has (usually) what we’re working on. What CoPs do, in my experience, even if I haven’t always realised I’ve been part of one, is elevate my aspirations and interest in my practice. They’ve stimulated and encouraged me to go further in the work that I do, knowing that I’ve got an audience for the things that I find frustrating or fascinating.

I’m looking forward to being part of a Systems Thinking CoP. I guess the TB872 module is one, although I don’t feel very connected to fellow students yet. Perhaps I should post more in the forum.

Top image: DALL-E 3

The role of endorsement in Open Badges and Open Recognition

Lately, I’ve been rethinking the importance of endorsements in the Open Badges ecosystem. This is due to changes in version 3.0, which now links Open Badges with a model called Verifiable Credentials. These changes have made me revisit some of my earlier ideas, especially as I’ve been doing more work on Open Recognition.

Some context

After leaving Mozilla in 2015, I worked as a consultant for City & Guilds, focusing on badges and digital qualifications. Originally coming from a background in formal education, I found it really interesting to see how organisations made sure their assessment systems were credible.

Validity, Reliability, and Viability combining to produce Credibility

Image CC BY-ND Bryan Mathers

To explain the above diagram:

  • Validity refers to the extent to which an assessment accurately measures what it is intended to measure. In other words, a valid assessment is one that successfully captures the skills, knowledge, or attributes it claims to evaluate.
  • Reliability is concerned with the consistency and stability of assessment scores over time and across different conditions. A reliable assessment will yield similar results when administered multiple times under similar conditions.
  • Viability refers to the practicality and feasibility of the assessment system. This includes considerations like cost, time, resources, and the technological infrastructure needed to administer the assessment.

These three elements combine to produce Credibility in the assessment system, by which we mean that stakeholders such as educational institutions, learners, and employers have confidence in the results it produces.

While it’s good that established awarding bodies like City & Guilds are using badges, my main interest is in challenging the existing system. That’s why it’s crucial for more people to understand the concepts that these organisations use.

What is endorsement?

When we’re unsure about the importance of something or whether to pay it attention, we often look for signs to help us decide. As William James said, “Our faith is faith in some one else’s faith, and in the greatest matters this is most the case.” So, if someone or an organisation you trust vouches for another person or topic, you’re likely to see it in a positive light.

This trust is often formally known as ‘endorsement,’ and it’s a feature of the Open Badges standard that’s often overlooked and underused.

In a 2016 book chapter called ‘The Role of Endorsement in Open Badges Ecosystems,’ Deb Everhart, Anne Derryberry, Erin Knight, and Sunny Lee highlighted how crucial endorsement is. It’s not just about supporting badge pathways but also about building networks of trust. These networks are key to the practice of Open Recognition.

Endorsement encourages the development of trust networks and connections among stakeholders in communities such as education, government, standards bodies, employers, and industry associations. Badge endorsers make their values known by analyzing the quality of specific badges, including how the badge is defined, the competencies it represents, its standards alignments, the process of assessing badge earners, and the qualifications of the badge issuer to structure and evaluate the learning achievement represented by the badge. With endorsement, badge earners are better able to understand which badges carry the most value for their goals. Badge issuers benefit from external validation of their badges. Educators, employers, and other consumers who evaluate learners’ achievements can better determine which badges are most appropriate in their contexts.

At the moment, the majority of badge platforms use v2 of the Open Badge standard. Endorsement isn’t a mandatory field when setting up the badge’s metadata. So, what’s the benefit of using it?

Taking City & Guilds as an example, they endorse the RSA’s City of Learning Badging Standard. In other words, they put their reputation behind it after checking that the RSA’s approach is valid, reliable, and viable.

Just like anyone can follow a curriculum, anyone can align their badge system with the Engage / Participate / Demonstrate / Lead approach. But this doesn’t guarantee their badges will get endorsed. To get an endorsement, there needs to be a relationship between the one giving the badge and the one endorsing it.

In theory, individual badges (called ‘assertions’) can get their own endorsements, separate from the general type of badge (known as ‘badge class’). But this is rare in practice. It’s usually the case that an organisation endorses a ‘Leadership’ badge as a whole, rather than endorsing a specific person’s ‘Leadership’ badge. However, this is getting easier, as some platforms are now set up to handle mass endorsement requests.

Changes to endorsement with v3.0 of the standard

Earlier this year, I published a post highlighting key updates to the Open Badges standard as it transitions to version 3.0. One significant change I didn’t mention at the time is how endorsements are managed.

The following example is taken from the endorsements section of the specification. I’ve rewritten it as the original is quite confusingly worded:

Ralph received a badge from the hospital where he works. This badge lists the skills needed for his role. He asks his workmates to vouch for these skills. The badge platform helps by sending this request to his peers, letting them review his skills, and then giving out endorsement badges. These new badges link back to Ralph’s original badge, name his colleagues as the ones who endorsed him, and show that Ralph is the one who received the endorsement.

A note from the editor below this example clarifies that, unlike previous versions of the standard, v3.0 requires giving out extra credentials for endorsements. This means endorsements are usually added after a badge has already been given. In previous versions, endorsement details could be part of the original badge, included in a reissued badge, or kept separately on the badge platform.

The change is possible because Open Badge v3.0 and Verifiable Credentials do not require a badge image. Although I saw this as some kind of sacrilege when I first heard of it, I’ve come to appreciate the merits of such an approach. It makes a lot sense for endorsements.

How endorsements enable Open Recognition

Another part of the v3.0 specification mentions self-assertion, which means an individual issuing a badge or credential to themself. We’ve talked about this ever since the early days of badges, but it was seen as either dangerous or frivolous by those with a vested interest in the status quo.

I’ve again slightly reworded the example found in the self-assertion section of specification for ease of understanding:

Stacy has made a mobile app that shows off her skills in coding, design, and product management. She sets up an account on a badge platform and designs a badge that lists these skills. Using her digital wallet app, she links to the badge platform and gives herself this badge. The badge includes screenshots and a link to her mobile app as proof. Stacy uses this badge and similar ones as items in her verified portfolio.

The editor’s note explains that in older versions of the specification, it was possible for individuals to create badges for yourself and colleagues. However, the details about who issued the badge were designed to be used by organisations. Now, v3.0, these details can refer to either an organisation or a person, with both the issuer and the recipient profiles having similar optional details. This makes means that an organisation can also be listed as the recipient of a badge.

Person giving a badge to someone else. A cloud of 'credentialing' surrounds them, with a wider cloud of 'recognition' around that.

Image CC BY-ND Visual Thinkery for WAO

This is huge for the purposes of Open Recognition:

Open Recognition is the awareness and appreciation of talents, skills and aspirations in ways that go beyond credentialing. This includes recognising the rights of individuals, communities, and territories to apply their own labels and definitions. Their frameworks may be emergent and/or implicit.

It means the following workflow is possible (and entirely legitimate):

  1. An individual self-issues a badge for something that makes sense to them, in their own language, and in their own context/community
  2. They ask for this badge to be endorsed by other members of the community
  3. The individual uses their badge, endorsed multiple times, to gain greater recognition in their community/sector/field

It’s worth noting that this doesn’t require traditional awarding bodies to validate or acknowledge their experience. This is key. While it’s possible for these bodies to do so, the groundbreaking aspect of Open Badges has always been to democratise the issuing of credentials, allowing anyone to issue badges to anyone, for anything.


Person standing in concentric circles entitled 'Self-issued', 'Issued', 'Verified', and 'Endorsed'

Image CC BY-ND Bryan Mathers

The above image came out of a conversation I had with Bryan back in 2017. At the time, endorsement was still a very organisation-centric way of creating credibility within the Open Badges ecosystem.

What I’m delighted to see is that finally the early revolutionary promise of badges is being recognised at a technical level. I can’t wait to see how individuals and organisations start using endorsement with v3.0 of the standard, and I’m excited to help them explore ways of doing so!