Open Badges

As part of the Colab project we have been developing an Open Badge system. What, you may ask, are Open Badges?

The core idea is that we can have our informal learning recognised. Informal learning means learning we ‘do’ outside of mainstream institutions. For example, by working alongside a practitioner, by completing an internship, by attending a workshop or a Gaia U course.

Most of us gain our permaculture knowledge this way. It is only recently that the Permaculture Design Course (PDC) has been picked up by formal education institutions. Additionally, experience counts for a lot in what we do and institutional learning often forgets or is unable to add experience into the mix.

So, we can earn badges for building up knowledge and experience in a whole range of ways that would not be formally recognised without such a system.

Once we earn a badge we can communicate the recognition it confers by showing it to other people. When we have several we can show people the collection of badges we have in our backpack. Making a personal backpack of badges enables us to provide potential employers, clients, and collaborators with some evidence of our credentials.  More specifically, we provide them with a connected, verifiable [set of] credentials represented in portable image files (quoted from Open Badges website here). These you can use in Email signatures, can be shown on social media, as part of e-portfolios and on websites.

Connected and verifiable means people can click through any of the badges, go to the website of the issuing body to see, in detail, what criteria were met in order to earn the badge, how these were verified and who did the issuing and verification. That’s super transparent.

Badges are fast becoming the method of choice used at the leading edge of (especially informal and increasingly, formal) learning as they do away with much of the exclusivity and inflexibility of conventional accreditation systems and enable many more non-conventional learning providers to participate in the general process of ‘qualifying’ people.

We use the term ‘Open Badges’ because the creation of badges in this system is an open process. This means that, deciding how the badges will be earned (what criteria are to be met), who can make and issue the badges and more is an open and transparent process.

How it works

  1. Specifying knowledge and skills associated with a role or job:
    Any participating learning provider, curriculum organization or project team can specify in some detail the knowledge, skills and experience that participants need in order to work well in the field and, the specification process can be a collaborative and additive one.
  2. One off’s and collections:
    Badges are developed to be stand-alone so any one is complete and valuable in it’s own right. An example from a PDC is the open badge for Permaculture Principles. Badges can also be added together in collections to so that, for example, a full PDC might generate a dozen individual badges that are ‘collected’ to make the full PDC badge.
  3. A learner can acquire the badges through different and varied channels that include, for example, their own direct study and experience, by taking a lesson and completing an activity, by working with a mentor and/or a peer group - the key requirement is that they can meet the criteria specified by the organization issuing the badge.
  4. In some instances learners can design and specify their own badges. Some collections will be tightly specified meaning that they are considered crucial for a particular role or job. Other collections can have quite loose boundaries - loose mean that learners can mix up topics and experiences according to their own needs and interests.


The Permaculture Colab is working with partners to develop this system. Gaia University is one and the Permaculture Association of Britain is another. The 3 together make up (and this is just a working title) The Coalition for Accrediting Future Skills. The goal is to design a system that can embody our values and need, and is used in a consistent way by many other partners who share these values and needs.

Here is our prototype framework. It is made with Gaia U colors and logo because it links to a free Gaia U course, Regenerative Livelihoods by Design (RLD). This link means you can take the course, earn the badge and see if you agree with the settings made on the badge.

Two references are essential to understanding the system:

  1. Cynefin - please see the Wikipedia page. Cynefin finds that we work in contexts that have different characters.  A Simple context (SE, not shown) in one is which we can use best practice solutions and be confident they will transfer. A Complicated context (CD, not shown) means we’d need deep expertise in the field and we could, after detailed analysis, offer several good options that we’d be confident would benefit the system whilst a Complex context (CX, as shown in the example badge) requires that we let go of any certainty around causality and therefore need to use inspired judgements to decide how to proceed.
  2. Kolb’s model - please see the INFED page but note that ‘learning styles’ is an outdated concept. Kolb identified 4 distinct modalities when learning by experience. There is CE, the concrete experience itself, RO, reflective obervation that enable us to answer the questions, what went well, what was challenging and what would we do differently next time, AC for abstract conceptualization that has to do with activities like researching other people’s thinking and looking for explanatory theories and AE, standing for active experimentation in which we test out our new thinking early and often before committing to the doing of the concrete experience again.   

Capacity development

It will surely take some time and practice (during which we’ll all earn some Open Badges) to learn to use the system consistently across partners - The Colab is setting up a common platform to enable comparison and comment. This platform will also permit the sharing of badges so that the good work of one partner can be adopted/adapted by another so that an accessible and broad library of open badges will emerge.

Over time the library will go a long way to clarifying what learning and experience is considered to be at the core of any skill-set and what add-ons might convert that core into the collections needed by the many and varied kinds of designers and actionists we need in the world.

And any of us will be able to let others know just what our full range is, by offering access to our validated badge backpacks.
Permaculture educators who would like to join in the development of the library can do so by contacting [email protected].