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Open Badges for Youth Work


I’ve been following the Open Badges movement from its start in 2013. I got interested in badges whilst being part of the trainers team supporting Youthpass developments. After four years of trials, errors, learning and developments, I am still convinced that this is the best tool for recognition in youth work


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The recognition needs of youth work(ers)

My background is in youth work and non-formal education. I am active in advocating for youth work and non-formal education in my country and at European level. For years, together with colleagues we were looking for ways to better show the value and impact of youth work activities on young people, their communities and society in general. Especially, it feels very difficult to “market” youth work to “outsiders” – schools, parents, higher education, public institutions, business institutions.

Why is this important at all? I am coming from Lithuania, where youth work is still struggling to establish itself as a respectful and valuable sector. We do not have long-standing traditions, enough of professionals and sufficient services of youth work that at least one or two generations would have experience of and can relate to. The professional identity of youth work within the sector itself is still in its infancy. But I think, we are getting there. In simple terms, what we strive to achieve is to show value and impact of youth work in order to ensure better life prospects of young people and secure necessary minimum of resources to carry on with professional youth work. This is the recognition needs of youth work(ers).

Badges answer the need for better recognition of what we do

The promise of Open Badges

Open Badges were invented by Mozilla Foundation to solve the emerging need to recognise any learning, wherever it happens, but especially in the contexts where recognition is lacking the most. Moreover, to fulfil this promise, Open Badges standard was built to utilise the latest digital technology at hand. From its introduction, Open Badges seemed perfectly matching what we need: better recognition of youth work and positive impact by using the latest digital technology.

This is my underlying message whenever talking about Open Badges for youth work and young people.  Badges answer the need for better recognition of what we do and what young people gain because of youth work activities. Moreover, badges is a digital technology and can offer new qualities to youth work and its recognition.

Too often, youth work was conditioned to accept the “recognition rules” that are applied in other sectors, e.g. paper certificates and qualification credentials issued as a result of rather formal assessment practised in the education sector. Very often, it was expected that the impact on young people would be measured in the exact same ways as it is done at schools, colleges or universities. But what works(?) in formal education, can not necessarily be applied to youth work.

Unique properties of Open Badges

With the introduction of digital Open Badges, now youth work can set its own “rules” of the recognition “game” in society. Open Badge technology has qualities and properties that enable us to implement multiple-type of assessment, giving equal value to self-assessment, peer review and external evaluation. With badges, it is possible to capture diverse experiences, skills and achievements, using various types of media – photo, video, audio, files, texts.

The most important feature of Open Badges is their technical specification that allows to embed data about learning and achievements inside the badge image. Now we can claim recognition by providing supporting evidence of impact. Badges are visual representation of skills and achievements. They can show directions and opportunities, they can help monitor learning progress, they can remind of achievements and refresh memory, they can be used to communicate skills and achievements in a data-rich and verifiable way. They can be just seriously fun.

Open Badges can be designed together with young people. They can co-create their unique recognition pathways. Badges can be easily adapted to the needs of young people and be applied in very flexible ways.

Badges are visual representation of skills and achievements.

The badge system was helping young people to open up and show initiative

Using badges in youth work practice

Let me share a real story from Lithuania of using badges in youth work context, to illustrate the above described theoretical potentials and benefits. During the last couple of years, together with several partners in Europe we were busy developing, testing and implementing badge-based recognition systems.

In our country, we piloted badges with young people who are not in employment, education or training and were offered an opportunities under the national volunteering programme ”Discover Yourself”. During the first 2 years, badges were issued to more than 600 young people who participated in this programme.

We carried out an impact research to get insights from young people about their experience and opinions of using badges in this volunteering programme. Out of 77 young people who completed the survey:

  • 71% stated that this badge system helped to reveal their knowledge
  • 61% acknowledged that badges showed their skills
  • 70% agreed that the badges showed their motivation to learn
  • 71% thought that badges demonstrated their interest in the theme of volunteering

A focus group with young people revealed more qualitative impact of badges. The badge system was helping young people to open up and show initiative as well as encouraged them to be curious and active.

Open Badges are ready for youth work

Together with partners we developed and started using more badge system. They are available for use by importing them from the public library on Badgecraft platform for badge issuing.

Organisations, who are involved in supporting young people’s international mobility, can search through the library to find badge systems for various types of youth mobility: youth exchanges, European volunteering activities, international trainings, school exchanges, VET mobility and more. All of these mobility systems were developed and are used by the partners of the European Badge Alliance.

Another European partnership that is aiming to increase the trust in Open Badges has created badge systems tailored to youth participation, volunteering in organisations, youth entrepreneurship and mentoring of volunteers.

Our badge practice shows, that a youth work organisation can start using Open Badges in their services with young people, should they want to offer a systemic way of supporting and recognising learning and achievements.

by Nerijus Kriauciunas (2018)

Nerijus Kriauciunas works with the team of Badgecraft on developing a multilingual platform for digital recognition of skills and achievements using Open Badges.

Photos:  cover © Juha Kiviniemi Badge Workshop and Laptop © Badgecraft,  Badge System for national volunteering in Lithuania © LINA, Open Badge Data © brianMMathers


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