For an #OpenBadges Conceptual Framework (green paper)

Why an Open Badge Framework?

The objective of this document is to provide a conceptual framework for understanding what Open Badges are, where do they come from, what they could become in the future and how they relate to other concepts and initiatives. This framework does not pretend and does not intend to be neutral. It is designed within the perspective of building an open and inclusive society where the citizens are fully empowered to act and transform education and employment, rather than merely adapt to them. It is a framework for action, individual and collective.

The Open Badge Conceptual Framework is situated within a larger frame of reference that includes concepts, ideas and initiatives that, while not directly related to Open Badges, share a number of their characteristics (e.g. Open Data). It is also aimed at debunking some of the misconceptions associated with Open Badges, e.g. their relation to gamification or the behaviourist theories leading to using Open Badges as rewards.

Open Badges for an Open Society

Open Badges for an Open Society

The framework explores how Open Badges exist in relation to the milieu where they are created and exploited. In the picture above, we have tried to represent how the different components of an open society relate to each other and what the place of Open Badges is. In the following chapters we will explore the polymorphic properties of Open Badges that are at the same time objects that contain pieces of knowledge, connect such pieces and constitute the elementary blocks of what can be qualified as a native open trust network.

What is a conceptual framework?

Although there are different understandings of what a conceptual framework is, the definition we will use for this document is:

  • A conceptual framework is an analytical tool used to make conceptual distinctions and organise ideas.

The following nota bene is an example of making such conceptual distinctions:

NB: in this document we will prefer the expression badge holder, to badge earner. The later tends to convey the misconception that someone has to ‘earn’ a badge, while it is perfectly legitimate to self-issue a badge and in that case, it is the endorsements that can be earned, not the badge itself.

What is its structure?

The first two chapters of this document are focused on the description of Open Badges, as digital artefacts, then on the description of the ecosystems where those artefacts are produced, live and are exploited. Special attention will be drawn to the issue of identity construction and the role Open Badges can play, in particular through creating the conditions for the emergence of holographic identities.

The penultimate chapter explores in more detail the value of Open Badges, while the final chapter suggests possible paths for future developments.

Table of contents



Why an Open Badge Framework?      2

What is its structure?      3

Open Badges as Digital Artefacts

What does Open mean?      4

What are Badges?      4

Open Badges as connectors      5

Open Badges as meaning      6

Open Badge Misconceptions      6

The Genesis of Open Badges      7

Do we need an Open Badge taxonomy?      10

Open Badges in their Ecosystems

Micro level: individuals      12

Meso level: institutions, organisations and communities      13

Macro level: society, policies, standards, social values, globalisation      15

Open Badges as a trust ecosystem      15

Open Badges as a power ecosystem      16

The initial design flaws of the Open Badge Infrastructure      19

The value of Open Badges

Celebrating the badge refuseniks      20

Badges value is prismatic      20

Why issue (or not) Open Badges?      22

Recognition & accreditation      22

Establishing Pathways      22

Plan and project      22

State and declare      22

Etc.      22

Open Badges Futures

The ‘dynamic’ badges      23

The ‘smart’ badges: badges as agents      23

The ‘smart’ infrastructure      23

More at:

You are welcome to contribute and criticise this document. It’s a green paper, so it is meant to trigger discussions!

The Celestial Emporium of #OpenBadges Taxonomies


In a previous post (Over 2 millions of badge types…) I explored the typology of Open Badges and the idea of a taxonomy to conclude to the inanity of any attempt at enumerating the different types of Open Badges.

Recently, while discussing with a colleague the ideas developed in this previous post, she reminded me of the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge, a fictitious taxonomy of animals described by Jorge Luis Borges in his 1942 essay “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins.” Borges used this taxonomy to illustrate the arbitrariness and cultural specificity of any attempt at categorising the world.

Taken from an ancient (fictitious) Chinese encyclopaedia, The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge divides all animals into 14 categories:

  1. Those that belong to the emperor
  2. Embalmed ones
  3. Those that are trained
  4. Suckling pigs
  5. Mermaids (or Sirens)
  6. Fabulous ones
  7. Stray dogs
  8. Those that are included in this classification
  9. Those that tremble as if they were mad
  10. Innumerable ones
  11. Those drawn with a very fine camel hair brush
  12. Et cetera
  13. Those that have just broken the flower vase
  14. Those that, at a distance, resemble flies

Reading this taxonomy I wondered how it could be translated into the realm of Open Badges. The result is Open Badge Taxonomy #1.

Open Badge Taxonomy #1 (directly inspired by The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge):

  1. Those issued by someone with more than 5,000 Linkedin connections
  2. The revoked ones
  3. Those related to formal training
  4. Those that have never been issued
  5. Marine-related ones
  6. Those earned by only 10 people in the whole world
  7. Those that were erased from the backpack at Christmas time
  8. Those included in this classification
  9. Those with an animated PNG
  10. Those that cannot be counted
  11. Those which picture has been hand drawn
  12. Et cetera
  13. Those that cannot be uploaded in the Backpack
  14. Those that, at a distance, resemble nothing special

After this first attempt, I wondered whether I could create more of them, let’s say “the behaviourist Open Badge taxonomy,”  and “the constructivist Open Badge taxonomy.” The combination of both gave Taxonomy #2.

Open Badge Taxonomy #2 (the behaviourist-constructivist Open Badge Taxonomy):

  • Those issued by those who believe in the need for controlling others
    • Those issued by those who believe that studying pigeons provides an insight into the human mind
      • Those issued by those who believe in behaviourist theories
        • Those issued by those who believe in the need for doggy biscuits and praise for motivating learners
      • Those issued by those who believe in gamification
      • Those issued by those who think that Open Badges are more ‘chic’ than gold stars
    • Those issued by those who believe that Open Badges should be ‘quality assured’
  • Those issued by those who believe in the need to empower others
    • Those issued by those who believe that only idiots can believe that studying pigeons can provide any insight into the human mind
      • Those issued by those who like to ridicule behaviourist beliefs

Although rather self-indulgent, this taxonomy is perfectly operational to organise the knowledge on Open Badges. Looking at power relationships is a-priori not less valid than any other classification. In the opinion of the author of this post, differentiating between the different ‘types’ of Open Badges, trust vs. distrust, is probably the only valuable taxonomy, if one is needed. Continue reading