“A ‘badge’ is a symbol or indicator of an accomplishment, skill, quality or interest. From the Boy and Girl Scouts, to PADI diving instruction, to the more recently popular geo-location game, Foursquare, badges have been successfully used to set goals, motivate behaviors, represent achievements and communicate success in many contexts. A “digital badge” is an online record of achievements, tracking the recipient’s communities of interaction that issued the badge and the work completed to get it. Digital badges can support connected learning environments by motivating learning and signaling achievement both within particular communities as well as across communities and institutions. This paper outlines and addresses a working set of definitions, ideas and guidelines around the use of digital badges within connected learning contexts” (Mozilla and Peer 2 Peer University 2012).
PLEASE NOTE: This is a draft of a bit of the Open Scientist Handbook. There are references/links to other parts of this work-in-progress that do not link here in this blog. Sorry. But you can also see what the Handbook will be offering soon.
The notion of using open digital badges to acknowledge certain practices and learning achievements has been circulating in the open science endeavor for more than a decade. Over these years, this has become a perennial “near future” augmentation/implementation of how open science can recognize and reward practices and skills. Instead of using game-able metrics that rank individuals as though they were in a race, badges can promote active learning, current standards, professional development, and research quality assurance.
The transition from arbitrarily scarce reputation markers (impact metrics, prizes, awards) to universally available recognition markers also helps to level the ground on which careers can be built across the global republic of science. Every scientist who wants to take the time and effort to earn a badge for achieving some level of, say, research-data reusability, or graduate-student mentorship, can then show off this badge to the world. Every student/scientist who acquires a specific skill (R programming, software reusability, statistics, etc.) can add a new badge to their CV.
In education, micro certifications can augment diplomas and degrees by pointing to specific skills acquired during the course of study. A badge can signal the attainment of a prerequisite skill for taking an advanced course, say, or a capstone skill for outside employment. These badges can accumulate into suites of acknowledged skills that students can highlight for specific future occupations. Micro-level open badges can be assembled into practical certifications (Leaser 2016; Accessed August 14, 2020).
“Open Badges are a specific type of digital badge designed to promote learner-agency principles. Open Badges communicate skills and achievements by providing visual symbols of accomplishments embedded with veriTable data and evidence that can be shared across the web. Open Badges empower individuals to take their learning with them — wherever they go — building a rich picture of their lifelong learning and achievements journey. Thousands of organizations across the world already issue Open Badges, from non-profits to major employers and educational institutions at all levels” <https://www.imsglobal.org/digitalcredentials>; Accessed August 14, 2020.
Above: German carpenters carry a book for certifications of their work while they apprentice on the road for three years to become members of the guild.
Keeping current with the latest badge news is difficult. Several projects are moving ahead independently (sounds like open science in general). Start-up credentialing companies, spin-offs from the open-badge endeavor, are building online commercial services, some of them on a blockchain, for verifiable credentials. Their not-so-open badges help companies run internal educational services and streamline hiring for specific skills (See: https://info.badgr.com/).
You can check out open/digital badge resources on the web:
Wikipedia: Digital Badges( <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_badge>; Accessed August 14, 2020),
MIT initially created an open standard for blockchain-connected certifications (<https://www.blockcerts.org/>; Accessed August 14, 2020),
Wikipedia: Mozilla Open Badges: (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mozilla_Open_Badges>; Accessed August 14, 2020).
The Mozilla effort was moved to IMS global where a standard for open badges is (currently) maintained (<https://www.imsglobal.org/activity/digital-badges>; Accessed August 14, 2020).
Of course, badges are not new. Philipp Schmidt (2017; Accessed August 17, 2020) points out a long, global history of verifiable certifications. Boy and girl scouts have used badges for a century or more. Academic diplomas are badges of learning, as are driver’s licenses (in theory).
Publishing with open badges for open practices
One place where badges might be implemented early is in open publishing, where publishers can add badges to their online descriptions of articles. These badges would serve to mark adherence to specific open practices: “Badges are an easy means of signaling and incentivizing desirable behaviors. Journals can offer badges acknowledging open practices to authors who are willing and able to meet criteria to earn the badge [(<https://osf.io/tvyxz/>; Accessed November 17, 2019)]. Badges acknowledging open practices signal that the journal values transparency, lets authors signal that they have met transparency standards for their research, and provides an immediate signal of accessible data, materials, or preregistration to readers. Badges allow adopting journals to take a low-risk policy change toward increased transparency. Compared, for example, to measures that require data deposition as a condition of publication, badge implementation is relatively resource-lite, badges are an incremental change in journal policy, and if badges are not valued by authors, they are ignored and business continues as usual” (Kidwell et al. 2016).
Learned Societies as badge engines
Each learned society could also host badges that members can earn by sharing their research or offering services to the membership. This is an easy way to displace current journal-based reputation markers, while acknowledging quality work, and boosting membership value. Societies can reward members whose work exemplifies those norms the society determines as core to their mission. Research that demonstrates team effort, active diversity, rigorous data collection, reusability — any practice that amplifies the value of the work for the society — might be connected to a badge.
Unlike prizes, badges are open to all who meet the requirements; there are no losers here, except sloppy science. In the post-subscription business world, learned societies need to explore new value propositions. Badges are one way their communities can tap into their collective strengths to add real value to the lives of their members. At the same time, badges serve to recognize every member who qualifies; prizes can only recognize a selected few (See Also: Shaming the giant). How about this for a culture change practice: you acquire the right combination of badges and you automatically become a “fellow” of the society. You will have earned it; nobody needs to vote for you.
If your learned society is not planning to offer badges, you might want to inquire about this. They are missing a golden opportunity. There should be a badge for that.
Badges for culture building
Badges are not easy to administer. Like all recognition schemes, they need to be well crafted and constantly tended to assure validation and verification. Badges focus attention on the practices and skills they announce. The governance of badge systems requires — as it also acquires — an active, reflexive cultural capacity to build trust and buy-in. One upside here is that the work of supporting badges can also help an organization maintain its cultural norms over time. Badges help build communities. The conversations about badges can bring out the virtues and values of the group.
To change an organizational culture you first need to change the way things get done now. But how do you intercept current decision and work flows? How can you help the whole group unlearn toxic behaviors? Badges work to establish new paths for decisions and activities. They offer micro-rewards that nudge a community over to new practices. Badges can include learning requirements, exposing the whole community to relevant new information. Badges are implicit promises; hold and display the “Share Open Data” badge and you better keep sharing. Finally, earning a badge is a great occasion for a team mini-celebration. Even a skeptic with tenure can get a dose of good feelings when their team celebrates their recent achievement.
As badges celebrate cultural norms, they can help push toxic practices and other, external incentives into the margins. The badge system your academy organization creates can offer footholds up to the common goal of an open science destination; everybody can use the same badges to arrive at this shared future. There’s still a mountain to climb to get to “open”, only now there is plenty of room at the top, and a reliable path upward.
Doing science right becomes easier when all the internal rewards are lined up. Buying into badges means buying out of current toxic conflicts-of-interest in the research flow (See: Building a gift economy: the dance of open science culture). It might be that open badges are the “killer app” for the future of open science.
Kidwell, M.C., L.B. Lazarević, E. Baranski, T.E. Hardwicke, and S. Piechowski. “Badges to Acknowledge Open Practices: A Simple, Low-Cost, Effective Method for Increasing Transparency.” PLOS Biology 14, no. 5 (2016): 1002456. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1002456.
Mozilla Foundation, The, and Peer 2 Peer University. “Open Badges for Lifelong Learning:Exploring an Open Badge Ecosystem to Support Skill Development and Lifelong Learning for Real Results Such as Jobs and Advancement” Working Paper, Funding from The MacArthur Foundation, 2012.