The aim of the Trusted Badge Systems project is to build employers’ trust in youth work programmes and their outcomes. We used the technology of digital Open Badges to close the gap between the youth work sector and the employment sector. The project partners developed badge systems to recognise achievements in various youth work settings, such as the European Voluntary Service, local volunteering, youth participation, mentoring and youth entrepreneurship.
In this project, we partnered with youth work organisations and representatives of employers from Lithuania, the Netherlands, Spain and Germany. For example, in Lithuania we established a partnership between the Lithuanian Association of Non-formal Education, the Lithuanian Confederation of Industrialists and the Department of Youth Affairs under the Ministry of Social Security and Labour. We implemented badges within the national volunteering service in Lithuania, called Discover Yourself. This programme is part of the Youth Guarantee initiative (now renamed to Upskilling Pathways), aiming to provide quality volunteering, training or job opportunities for young people. Digital Open Badges are an important tool of recognition because they serve as a bridge between various stakeholders and actors to communicate the value and meaning of youth work programmes and their outcomes.
source: CC BY-ND Bryan Mathers
We did an impact research as part of the project activities and we had some quite interesting findings of how digital Open Badges benefit young people.
The impact research reveals that young people perceive badge-based achievement programmes as interesting (79% of all respondents), useful (75%) and engaging (72%). Participants in volunteering programmes agreed that badges encouraged learning (71%), influenced positive emotions (70%) and provided good support in identifying personal challenges and learning goals (60%).
Achievement programmes were seen as a way for volunteers to take initiative, stay active and curious and get to know each other. Young people mentioned that Open Badges were a helpful tool in dealing with the uncertainty of starting something new and a way to integrate into a new group of people.
Open Badges were helpful in the reflection process, as a tool for self-assessment and a way to retain knowledge and recall experiences. Badges also helped to perceive volunteering as an increasingly more interesting and engaging experience.
The research also showed that there is a considerate lack of knowledge and wider awareness about the usefulness of Open badges. Volunteers lack understanding of how to use badges for proving experience and learning. Here the role of mentors is essential in informing young people about the role and benefits of Open Badges.
Presenting Trusted Badge Systems to institutions
One of the biggest challenges was designing badge-based recognition systems by involving young people in the process. Such a participatory approach required to adjust to the pace and interest of young people. The partner organisations tested badge system prototypes with young people, listened to their feedback, and made improvements accordingly.
Another challenge was building bridges between the youth work and employment sectors. During this project we aimed to develop endorsement schemes where employer representatives would express appreciation and show trust in the badge systems developed by the partners.
One of the successful examples of such endorsement scheme was created by our partners in Spain. It was developed by Cazalla Intercultural in partnership with Asociación de Jóvenes Empresarios de la Comarca del Guadalentín (Association of Young Entrepreneurs). The badge use was extended to the local and regional level to address the needs of young people and prepare them better for self-employment, employment or entrepreneurial activities.
Trusted Badge Systems resulted in several outputs which can be accessed and used by any youth work organisation or institution.
The project partners created specific badge systems that implement quest-based learning. These badge systems are available for free from the Badgecraft.eu public badge library.
The project brought new improvements to how Open Badges are used. It created unique opportunities for learners to collect evidence of their achievements using the Badge Wallet app. Badge Wallet is a simple and secure way to earn, store, manage and share your achievements using digital Open Badges issued through the Badgecraft platform. Badge Wallet is free to download on App Store and Google Play.
Youth work organisation can perfectly combine badge systems developed together with the Badge Wallet app and offer youth-friendly and trustworthy recognition of learning and achievements.
I learnt a lot while working on the project, like how important it is to approach recognition of achievement in a systemic way. It is not enough to offer a tool or a process only to learners or to education providers. We have to work across all recognition networks: issuers, receivers and endorsers.
I learnt how to approach integration of digital innovation in rather “analogue” youth work settings, where many people do not feel very confident about using digital tools. I understood that it takes time and patience and that we have to invest a lot into digital literacy before any tool can be utilised well in youth work settings.
Further work with open badges allowed me to get in touch with the broader Open Badges community. Open Badges are an open source tool and their development is community-based. I discovered that we should not be looking for someone to decide on the further development of Open Badges, but a lot depends on our daily efforts to promote recognition of learning and use of Open Badges.
I’ll never forget two moments from implementing the project. The first one is when I was told that the project was supported and I embarked on an exciting 2-year journey of new developments. The second one is from the evaluation meeting in Spain, where we reviewed the results and realised that we had accomplished a lot more than we planned. We had a lovely time visiting spectacular places in Lorca and its surroundings.