A few months ago, my friend and former colleague Laura Hilliger encouraged me to write something for opensource.com. She’d had a few posts published about the benefits of working openly.
Today, Bryan Mathers and I have had published an article that goes into why Open Badges are such a good fit for open communities.
The web is the perfect medium for a new credentialing system. Just like the web, Open Badges are democratic, open, and distributed. The OBI is itself open source, as are many badge issuing solutions found on GitHub and other code repositories. Open Badges help move forward the open web.
Nepotism is a word which is ordinarily used pejoratively. That is to say, nobody wants to be accused of it.
nepotism, n. unfair preferment of or favouritism shown to friends, protégés, or others within a person’s sphere of influence.
The old version of nepotism was guilty of saying, “You’re my friend from the tennis club so I’m going to give you this unrelated opportunity”.
People were given jobs independent of aptitude or talent. It was all about connections and relationships within a very small network. It’s the reason sinecures were so common until the mid-20th century.
However, the hiring practices this has led to are sub-optimal. I’m not sure there’s a single person who would design the system we’ve got if they were doing so from scratch.
Yes, it’s illegal in many jurisdictions to even ask on an application form about someone’s age, gender, race, or sexual orientation. This is a step forward for equality. Great! The really sad thing is that it often leads to bland mass of undifferentiated application instead of truly embracing diversity.
As a result, for better or worse, people have found ways to bypass stifiling recruitment practices. The New Nepotism says, “You’re my friend / former colleague from a previous project/organisation. We successfully created something awesome together, so I’m going to give you this related opportunity.”
I’m guilty of having received opportunities through New Nepotism. I’m also guilty of giving them. My point with this post is to say that we’ve got a twin-track system where one track is the direct result of the other. We look for colour and diversity through relationships that we’ve already established because CVs and application forms are so limp and lifeless.
Perhaps we could move beyond New Nepotism through a system like Open Badges? No two human beings are truly alike, so why should their credentials? As soon as we have a system that truly captures the value of people’s experiences, then we can hire based on talent and experience —rather than who you’ve already happened to work with and know.
I first stumbled across Open Badges in mid-2011. I immediately thought the idea had revolutionary potential, and began evangelising it to anyone who would listen. Happily, this led to me being asked to fly to San Francisco to judge the DML Competition that initially seed-funded the ecosystem. There, I met Erin Knight in person, and subsequently accepted a position on the badges team at Mozilla.
It’s hard enough building a start-up. So you can imagine what happens behind the scenes when you’re trying to build a brand new global ecosystem. It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns. From what I understand, things got even tougher after I moved teams at Mozilla to focus on web literacy work in late 2013. My former colleagues formed the Badge Alliance, initially funded by the MacArthur Foundation.
While I was aware of some of what went down at the end of 2014, it’s only been later in small group conversations that I’ve been able to fill in the gaps. All was not what it seemed in badge land. Politics and personalities threatened to shipwreck the nascent badges community. It was a delicate balance: people deserved to know some of what was going on, but negative press could have unduly ‘scared the horses’.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to be the one to write the post that Kerri Lemoie published this week to coincide with this weekend’s Mozilla Festival:
In the couple of days since Kerri’s post I’ve seen some chatter on social networks. Some people seem to be worried about the long-term viability of Open Badges. Not me. For two reasons.
1. Open Badges is a open source project
The first is that Open Badges is, as the name suggests, an open source project. The great thing about this development model and approach is that, ultimately, it belongs to everyone and no-one. There are occasions when a person, group, or company might assume leadership. However, — but that can (and does) change over time. If there’s ever a time when a significant enough group within an open source project disagree with the direction it’s heading, they can fork the project.
2. The Hype Cycle predicts what’s happening
The second reason comes courtesy of Gartner Hype Cycle. It’s a way of understanding the “maturity, adoption and social application of specific technologies”:
According to Gartner’s 2015 education report (paywalled, but there’s a summary here), Open Badges is right at the top of the Peak of Inflated Expectations. As tends to happen as technologies mature, Open Badges is likely to slide into the Trough of Disillusionment in 2016. This is to be expected. In fact, according to Gartner, it’s necessary in order to reach the Plateau of Productivity.
Now look again at the hype cycle diagram. At the start of the Slope of Enlightenment it reads ‘Second-generation products, some services’. Over the last few months there’s been some discussion about pairing Open Badges with the blockchain technology underpinningBitcoin. Back in March I wrote a post to that effect, there have been some noises in the Google Group, and (excitingly) and MIT have just launched a similar-sounding project.
So I’d say the future remains bright for Open Badges. It has experienced the growing pains as any truly innovative technology will suffer. 2016 might be rough for the community.
However, we should bear in mind that the hype cycle can describe a full 10 years from conception to mainstream. If that’s true of Open Badges then we can expect full adoption to happen around 2021. So, between then and now, there’s a bunch of us who need to roll up our sleeves, and do the work.
This stuff is too important to be a mere ‘bridging technology’. For some of us it could be some of the most significant work we do in our careers. Open Badges is what we make it. Let’s get on with building the future!
If you’re interested in designing badge systems and think I might be able to help, please do get in touch via my consultancy, Dynamic Skillset. I have reduced rates for third sector organisations such as charities, non-profits and educational institutions.