A thought concerning MIRVA and Open Badges 2.0

Not long ago I sat in on an ORA (Open Recognition Alliance) conference call about their MIRVA project to “Make Informal Recognition Visible and Actionable.” Serge Ravet led the call, the specific purpose of which was to discuss a draft framework for MIRVA.

In the call, Serge challenged the participants to think about ways recognition that is visible and actionable might also be made more community-centered and dynamic. In this post (of a blog I created solely for the purpose of writing this post), I’m exploring one idea for how that challenge might be met by the existing Open Badges 2.0 standard (OB 2.0).

Serge characterized the ways in which recognition can be made visible and actionable as existing along a two dimensional plane. Looking at the x-axis, we see that recognition can range from traditional (i.e., static and past-oriented) to non-traditional (i.e., dynamic and future-oriented). Looking at the y-axis, we see that recognition can be formal (i.e., institution-centered) or informal (i.e., community-based).


Image created by Serge Ravet

According to Serge, the majority of our work with open badges up to this point has existed in the lower-left quadrant of the plane, that is, on the “Traditional” and “Formal” ends of the spectrum. He challenged us to think of ways recognition might also exist in the upper-right quadrant, that is, on the “Non-Traditional” and “Non-Formal” ends of the spectrum.

The Problems to Solve

I’ll describe the problems I’d like to address and then spell out the proposed solution as a series of questions. It might be an unusual approach, but hopefully you’ll get the idea*.

Problem #1: As badges are currently used, there doesn’t appear to be an elegant way for recipients to stack their own badges according to themes, e.g. competency or topic. A badge issuer can add metadata to a badge that identifies it as “related” to other badges in terms of topic or competency. However, badge recipients aren’t able to edit the metadata of badges they receive (for understandable reasons).

Yet the ability to make implicit themes or overarching competencies within a collection of badges explicit (visible and actionable) should matter to individual and community badge holders. That’s because their badges, taken as a collection, can paint an emergent picture of who that individual or community is and what they can do. But it’s a picture that may easily be overlooked by badge consumers.

Problem #2: In the current badging environment, there doesn’t yet seem to be a credible way for individuals and/or communities to issue badges to themselves.

Problem #3: For any given competency, an individual may be capable of demonstrating different “levels” of competence, ranging from novice to expert. One system of badges might define levels of competence, but can those levels be easily understood and rectified within other badging systems?

The Idea

Here’s the idea about how Open Badges 2.0, or something close to it, might be used to address those problems. I’ve parsed the idea as a series of questions.

Question 1: What if an individual, using Open Badges 2.0, issued a badge to himself or herself that represented either an interest in a topic or a claim about a competency that he or she possesses?

Question 2: Supposing OB 2.0 could support the action in Question 1, what if that individual then issued badges to himself or herself that represented evidence in support of the interest or competency claim? Such evidence might be an event, a relationship (e.g. professional mentor/mentee relationship), a demonstration, or something else. Each of these “evidence” badges would contain metadata that identified it as related to the “interest” badge described in Question 1 (if possible, as a child of that interest badge).

Question 3: Supposing OB 2.0 could support the actions in both Questions 1 and 2, what if those evidence badges where then endorsed by others, using OB 2.0’s endorsement features? Would those self-issued badges look any more credible to badge consumers?


People familiar with open badges are likely familiar with the idea of stackability. Badges are stackable in the sense that a set of badges can sometimes comprise an overarching meta-badge. For example, if I earn a badge on writing a project charter, another on planning a project’s schedule, another on budgeting, and another on stakeholder communication, then that set of earned badges might amount to an overarching badge called project management.

MIRVA image 1MIRVA image 2

You could think of this as a sort of upward stackability because the badge recipient first has to earn the smaller badges before earning the overarching meta-badge.

The idea described in the above questions would amount to something like downward stackability of badges. First, the recipient acquires the meta-badge, which represents that recipient’s interest in a topic / competency, or claim about already having some competency. Then, the recipient earns more badges -an unlimited number- in support of that overarching meta-badge.

MIRVA image 3MIRVA image 4


Referring to Serge’s table, this idea might enable “upper-right quadrant” recognition, i.e., recognition that is both non-formal and non-traditional.

However, it might also have value for the lower-left “standardized” quadrant. For example, imagine an organization that publishes a badge class whose purpose is to represent an interest in a particular competency. In support of that badge, the organization publishes criteria for what it would consider credible evidence that an individual has attained some modicum of that competency.

An individual wishing to acquire the organization’s “interest” badge could do so easily -perhaps by simply providing his or her email address to the badge issuer. After that, the individual would set about issuing “evidence” badges to himself or herself, or earning evidence badges that others offer, in support of that overarching meta-badge. The more evidence badges the individual created, and the more others endorsed the credibility of the evidence, the more credible the individual’s overarching claim of competence would start to look.


I’ll admit that this isn’t a fully baked idea, and I already see a few problems with it.

First, users would need to create entirely new badge classes every time they wanted to issue themselves evidence badges. That’s time-consuming. Second, there’s still plenty of room for self-issuers to fabricate evidence. Third, it’s hard to imagine users spending much time researching someone else’s interest and evidence badges in order to endorse them. But who knows, maybe there’s a value proposition to those who would be endorsing others that I haven’t considered.

I’m interested in hearing from others if Open Badges 2.0 could support something like this, and whether or not it’s an idea worth pursuing.


*Apologies to anyone else who may have already this idea or a similar idea. I didn’t cite you because I haven’t encountered your work yet.



3 thoughts on “A thought concerning MIRVA and Open Badges 2.0

  1. Hi Justin, I just discovered a link to your post at the bottom of the MIRVA site—most convenient! I think that you have rightly elicited several issues we have to address to make Open Badges less “conformant.” My take on this is that the problem is within the Open Badges themselves, the way they have been designed, starting with the distinction issuer/earner and badge instance/class. Not long ago I worked on a use case related to the “Kirkpatrick level 3 assessment” i.e. the transfer of learning to the workplace, and I thought of an elegant solution based on a workflow where the learner would first sign the badge before going to training, then the trainer once satisfied with the candidate’s learning, then the line manager once satisfied with the transfer to the workplace (and we could add more signatories, like a professional body recognising evidence of continuous professional development, etc.). This can’t be done with badges as they are today, especially those that do not use cryptographic signatures.

    The main flaw with Open Badges today is that they are based on the idea that “recognition” is something that happens at the end of a process—one learns then gets a grade, a certificate or a diploma. If we think that recognition is not something that only comes at the end of a process, but could be a starting point, an entry point rather than an exit point, then the concepts of issuer/earner are simply irrelevant. What we need is a “subject”, a “claim” and a “condition” to make that claim valid. A badge, as it is today will define the condition as “needs to be signed by ‘xyz'” i.e. what we call the “issuer” and what we call the “criteria” today is just what the owner of identifier ‘xyz’ has taken into consideration when signing the badge. This is what have with *verifiable claims* the specification under development at the W3C with the participation of members of the Open Badge community.

    So, if we want to create the conditions for other forms of recognition, more flexible, more complex, more “open,” we first need to get rid of the dichotomy issuer/earner which might relevant to (micro-)diploma and (micro-)certificates but not to the “Kirkpatrick level 3” use case. Here, we have a contract between 3 parties, and a series of claims made by a subject: I am ready to learn, I have learned, I have transferred my learning into my job. Badges as they are today are not designed to support a process, but to capture a credential.

    Once we move our reflection from “credentialing” to “recognition” we realise that Open Badges, as they are today, only offer a very limited range of recognitions. Endorsements are an attempt at expanding the range, but if the foundations remain unchanged the impact will be limited.

    • Serge, thank you so much for your comments!

      “The main flaw with Open Badges today is that they are based on the idea that “recognition” is something that happens at the end of a process—one learns then gets a grade, a certificate or a diploma.”

      I really like this statement. As an instructional designer working in the CBE and micro-credentialing world, I’ve seen first-hand the tendency to evaluate learners based on isolated learning experiences, issue them badges that declare they’ve demonstrated mastery, then quickly usher them on to the next learning experience. The outcomes of our experiences should be part of a continuum of reflection, learning, and recognition, and I think you’ve stated that wonderfully.

      One answer I proposed to this problem is to enable learners to stack credentials beneath a given competency statement, including credentials that they have self-issued, then acquire endorsements. Learners are thus the designers of their own pathways, and the more credentials and endorsements they earn, the more compelling their competency claims look. A key idea is that a collection of credentials can represent one’s claims too, and in some ways is capable of conveying more information than the sum of its parts. A better description is found here: https://stinjitsu.wordpress.com/2018/02/27/an-upside-down-way-to-stack-open-badges/.

      Regarding W3C Verifiable Credentials, I think they’re fascinating and I’m trying to learn more about them. I admit I still don’t have a clear sense/vision for how verifiable credentials and open badges fit in relation to each other in the larger recognition ecosystem. Should the two eventually be integrated? Or should they co-exist and fulfill complimentary roles? I’m still learning and forming an opinion. One thing is certain: I need to start joining those W3C open calls!

      Thank you again for taking the time to comment. I truly appreciate and respect your insights on this topic.


      • I like very much your attempt at articulating informal and formal recognition, self-issued and formally defined/issued competency badges. It elicits the fact that recognition is more like a flow than a fixed state. This could be a way to reinvent recognition of prior learning, where institutions delivering formal recognitions would build on the strength of the communities and informal recognition within them: recognition of prior learning (partly) based on the (formal) recognition of (informal) recognition.

        Moreover, there is still the issue of recognising emerging skills, something that can’t be aligned to previously defined standards. So we would have emerging skills being first recognised informally, then formally by institutions of formal education or awarding bodies. IMO the acid test to a good recognition ecosystem is its ability to recognise emerging skills, not just the conformance against predefined standards — if 30% of today’s occupations did not exist 20 years ago, how shall we recognise the competencies of the 30% or more new occupations?

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