Category Archives: Validity

Mozilla Open Badges: building trust networks, creating value

“…the value of a unit of currency is not the measure of the value of an object, but the measure of one’s trust in other human beings.” (Graeber, 2011)

In the last few posts we have discussed ways in which badge systems can be segmented, considered, or categorized within existing social structures. And I have hinted at the sociocultural infrastructure necessary for badges to become useful and effective, social, professional, and personal currencies. This concept of currency stems from the notion of badges as elements of trust networks. They may be trust networks that exist presently but in this post, I suggest that badges may help to engender the creation of dynamic new trust networks.

These dynamic new trust networks will most certainly arise from constituent parts of existing trust systems—it’s worth noting that we’re building on top of those already with the idea of badges themselves. Open Badges are built to recognize and acknowledge different forms of learning, associations, achievements, affiliations, skills, competencies, and type of expertise from such diverse areas including academic, informal, professional, social, personal, etc. With Open Badges providing such a wide net for recognition and acknowledgement, it behooves us to rethink exactly how much value we place in current, culturally-steeped interpretations of such a protean system. In other words, what else can we imagine coming into being that does not exist right now?

In earlier posts about badge system design, we focused on the some of the better ways to begin thinking about how to create a badge system where little to nothing existed previously. Recognizing that a badge system is situated and will interact with a wide variety of other systems, each badge system is interwoven with, complements, and depends upon other systems to exist. Let’s consider a badge system that acknowledges prior learning. In order for it to function effectively, that system would need to take into account existing social, professional, and cultural memetics. It would benefit from being based on current understandings of educational value; existing professional environments that might find value in such badges; investigation into personally derived meaning and value. At the risk of stating the obvious, the key word in all of those phrases is value.

And from whence does value arise? It’s a complex, socially and personally derived concept. A concept rooted in cultural semiotics and one that, I would suggest, at its base contains one very necessary aspect of all true communication: trust.

Badge systems, as well as their constituent badges, if they are to take firm root and drink deeply from the vast underground sea of social semiotics must not only engender trust, but actively work to build it. How might this occur? I discussed some of how this might happen in a previous post, “Badge System Design: what we talk about when we talk about validity.” Here I’ve created some visuals to help us think through a plan of how we get there from here.

A bit of background first, though. Thanks to the many interesting conversations we’ve had with folks involved in traditional academia, we’ve been very much influenced by the notions of trust that seem to be intertwined with traditional academe. Over the years, formal academia has developed a virtually crystalline structure* of trust based on: reliability, replicability, credibility, validation, certification, accreditation, verification, and authentication.

First up: what are the items that come together in a strong badge system that allow for it to move out into a broader social economy? What are the items that are both necessary and sufficient for this to happen?  (btw, when clicked on, the graphics below will enlarge for improved readability.)

Open Badges: suggested components for trust to develop

While I’ve listed a variety of elements in that graphic—elements that have overlap with one another—note that the question of which elements are necessary and sufficient to coalesce into a trust network is entirely open. And even within that question, which of these are necessary and sufficient, how much of each of these are necessary and sufficient? Trust is a delicate alchemical reaction based on complex and varying degrees of components, environment, perceptions, etc.

If we begin to intermix these varying badge systems together, some of which contain all of the elements of trust, some of which contain very few of them, we begin to find similarities, natural alliances or links between them. The items with grey backgrounds are systems that have managed to produce types of trust. Those with just a thin grey circle encompassing them have yet to develop a sense of trust about them. This does not mean that these badge systems are any less meaningful or useful to the ecosystem, simply that they have not yet developed the sort of trust that carries social value.

Open Badges: permutations of trust

These smaller trust system permutations may cluster naturally by themselves, finding opportunities for collaboration, or building or scaffolding upon each other’s badge systems. Or it may be that third parties may find that there are social, monetary, political, or cultural benefits to connect them together. The evolution and development of different sorts of trust networks appears below.

Open Badges: the evolution of trust networks

As we begin to imagine the future of badge systems with varying degrees of trust building upon and aligning with other badge systems with varying degrees of trust, we can see how new forms of value might arise from such a dynamic system. It may happen that complete, robust trust networks form and coalesce in addition to continuously forming incipient trust networks. In the Open Badges ecosystem, we anticipate immense initial growth of badge systems followed by issuer alliances, the development of endorsing systems, related third parties entering the scene, and employers beginning to “consume” badges. In short, a system with emergent properties.

And if we look out even further than that, we may find that our perception of the future entails new forms of social, professional, personal, political, and cultural currency—or, as the anthropologist David Graeber notes, trust.

*Note that a crystalline structure is brittle; the system design underpinning Open Badges endeavors to encourage structures that are strong and resilient, firm but flexible.

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More soon.  carla at mozillafoundation . org

references
Graeber, D. (2011). Debt: the first 5000 years. Brooklyn, NY : Melville House Publishing.