Note: this post is an exact copy of the article Dominic Orr wrote on his Digimusing blog and published with his permission.

With learning at the centre of modern society, new ways of recognising learning are being sought that are more flexible, more inclusive and more transparent than the current forms of official certification. Formal recognition only ever covers a small sector of the total population – i.e. those in education and training programmes with certification aligned to national qualification frameworks (according to the official definition of ‘formal learning’).

However, participation in society, social mobility and indeed innovation in the workplace are dependent on recognition and communication of learning achievements in terms of the skills, knowledge and experiences people have acquired in various settings.

The MIRVA project

The MIRVA project is looking at how technology can be harnessed to offer new forms of recognition and this was the main topic of the recent ePIC conference, which is aligned to the MIRVA project.

We are two of the MIRVA partners – Chiara Carlino from CINECA (Italy) and Dominic Orr from FiBS Research (Germany) – and during the ePIC conference we offered an interaction session with the title “Tell us how you recognize…” because we wanted to understand how recognition as a process is part of people’s daily life (25 October 2018).

Around 30 participants from ten countries and international organisations took part in the session. We briefly introduced the project goals and then we asked them to respond to our 4 questions, either individually or as small groups via a common Etherpad . Using this collaborative text-editing platform had the advantage that all participants could see and be inspired by the responses of the participants.  

Interaction session at ePIC 2018 “Tell us how you recognize…”

In the following, we will present a short analysis of the responses to our four questions: 

  1. How are your competences recognized in your own daily life?
  2. How do you recognise other people’s competences? Can you give examples from your daily life here too?
  3. From your list of examples, where do you think things could be improved? And who would be responsible for improving them (you, your company, your organisation, the government )?
  4. How could technology help in supporting your ideal scenario? What should you be able to do?

The participants were encouraged to provide multiple responses to each case and we received over 50 responses to the first two questions and numerous responses to the follow-up questions, which were a little more complex. In the analysis of the first two questions, we divided the responses to reflect that there are two clear spheres to most people’s lives – i.e. between personal and professional lives – and to reflect that recognition may be ‘fleeting’, i.e. short and less obvious to those not involved in a particular social exchange, and ‘visible’ and therefore also clear to others not involved in the exchange were recognition was expressed. 

A working typology for forms of recognition

Type of recognition / 
Sphere of life 
Fleeting and less obvious to those not involved in 
a particular social 
More long-lasting and 
visible to others
Personal life x x
Professional life x x

Q1: How are your competences recognized in your own daily life?

We asked the participants to think of examples of when people trust you to do something in your professional or personal life. We had 49 responses to this question and almost all of the comments referred to ‘fleeting’ forms of recognition in people’s professional and personal life – with a nearly even split 50:50 between these two parts of our life. These comments often emphasised the smallest fleeting exchanges such as “a tap on the back” after completing a task or smiling. But they also emphasised the recognition is shown by people trusting you to know something or to be able to solve a problem, e.g. “when they ask for my advice”.

In a professional setting such recognition might become more visible to other people, e.g. when people quote your work or share your ideas with others, but again this might take the form of trust in future abilities such as when you are invited to join a new project team. More visible forms of recognition in a professional space were also mentioned, such as when you get a salary rise, are promoted to a new position or a new project proposal is approved.

Q2: How do you recognise other people’s competences? Can you give examples from your daily life here too?

The second question looked at the same phenomenon of recognition, but now from the perspective of the people making comments, i.e. when they are in fact the agents of this recognition. This provided similar inputs to before, but appears to be easier to respond to, because it is not quite so abstract as the first question (we had 70 responses).

Many ‘fleeting’ forms of recognition were mentioned such as complimenting people, recommending them to others and giving them new tasks, but it was interesting that social media tools were referred to in about one-fifth of the comments. These tools make such ‘fleeting’ forms of recognition more visible for others.

People mentioned endorsing (with likes, shares or comments) the work of others using Tripadvisor, Facebook, LinkedIn and ResearchGate. These could be said to be forms of endorsement, which have been digitally-enhanced to make them more visible and, perhaps, useful to others. So, this already suggests that digital networks are changing the way we express recognition for others.

Q3: From your list of examples, where do you think things could be improved? And who would be responsible for improving them (you, your company, your organisation, the government )?

The third question asked the participants to think about how to improve recognition practices and processes. Their answers should also reflect on who might be responsible or have the power to make such changes. This question received 28 responses.

These responses can be divided between those, which are about changing a mindset or culture of recognition and those which actually recommend the need for certain practices and procedures, which would help individuals to get their skills and competences recognised. Around one third were about changing the mindset and therefore about establishing a more inclusive view of recognition. Example states are, for instance:

  • “Be less reluctant or hesitant when giving a recognition. We need to give more of this, like: you did good. Instead of looking at the downside of actions.”
  • “Trust people more and let them come up with new ideas especially when they differ from the mainstream ones” and similarly: “[There should be a] leap of faith from the middle hierarchy (rector).”

Two thirds of the responses were about practices and processes recommended to improve recognition, for instance:

  • “We should definitely spend more time getting to know who we work with”
  • “Let good ideas to emerge”
  • “Put more weight on informal achievements and recognition”
  • “Improve the link between informal recognition and career improvement, bonuses”
  • “Show a person he/she has a particular skill, so they can reflect on it”

One participant emphasised that individuals can also become more proactive here:

  • “Maybe people should ask more for recognition? It doesn’t come automatically: it is a process.”

There are three ways for digital technology to help such processes. As one person wrote, it is about making certain that digital recognition can be shown in other contexts: “My likes, comments could travel better between applications.” But such technologies can surely also be applied to helping create transparent pathways from informal learning to formal educational courses and to make people’s skills more tangible. This latter case was indeed mentioned by the representative of Orange at the ePIC Conference (Eric Barilland), who is developing a system where employees are asked to describe their tasks in their own words and an artificial intelligence system suggests which skills and competencies they are demonstrating through executing these tasks.

Q4: How could technology help in supporting your ideal scenario? What should you be able to do?

The final question asked participants to consider how technology might support a better form of recognition in personal and professional contexts. This section received 18 responses. They can be broadly broken down into four areas:

  • making recognition more visible
  • using technologies to proactively support the process of recognition
  • technical considerations that would be preconditions for good practices
  • ethical issues related to technical solutions

It was suggested that technology could be used to provide individuals with personal dashboards, which display their own competency profile. Such a dashboard could be made public and shared with others to benefit from network effects of connections to other similar people or providing new opportunities for learning or work based on a person’s profile.

One of the ideas behind the MIRVA project is that the process of recognition is also a significant social process because it shows that the two people involved in this process trust each other. Following on from this idea one suggestion was for a network of recognition, which visually represents how people are related in a network of trust.

The information collected digitally as part of these processes could also be used proactively to suggest the skills a person might have acquired through tasks which they are executing and to suggest that this person seeks recognition for these skills. Networks of trust could be harnessed to help a person find the appropriate community for them to receive this recognition (i.e. an active network within their skills, knowledge or activity area). The information might also inspire others to learning, recognise and be active in a network of trust. One of the participants wrote rather poetically:

“My journal is your qualitative data, my videos are your evidence of mentoring or social impact by loaning access to resources, my data is your open data. If my badge evidence and portfolio is recognized and valued, my badge will be worth more, and understood more widely. A portfolio and a badge should not be a thing or an end if the ecosystem is healthy.”

An important precondition for this broad concept of recognition in society, which spans personal and professional spheres and includes both formal and informal learning, is that each person would need a persistent identity, which could be followed through different platforms and digital interactions.

These ideas also lead to ethical considerations, which should not be neglected in the design of more inclusive recognition systems. Two of these specifically mentioned were:

  • the requirement that a person retains data sovereignty and can choose what others see (e.g. in their public skills dashboard)
  • the requirement that an expression of trust or confirmation of skills can be later revoked by the person expressing the endorsement or by the person receiving it

Concluding comments: recognition in a digital world

This exercise has shown that giving and receiving recognition is part of our personal and professional daily lives. However, it also showed that some of the processes of recognition are so commonplace as to be hardly seen. Furthermore, many of these processes are fleeting – that is that they might be seen in a specific moment in time, but then disappear again afterwards, limiting their value for recognition within a community and, even more so, outside of a specific community or social space.

Fleeting recognition can and is being made visible and amplified through digital platforms, as was shown by many of the comments. So, it might be argued that this is a good place to further develop the methods and tools we can use to achieve a recognition, which is transparent and useful to the receiver.

However, it should be noted that currently most digital platforms on the Internet are ‘walled gardens’, which mean that this form of recognition is difficult to make visible and actionable outside of these platforms. Whilst these platforms might offer a good ecosystem to make visible and promote competency profiles and learning pathways, they also limit communication.

To avoid this, it is necessary to have digital solutions, which operate across or even independently of platforms. That is the promise of open digital badges, which are platform-agnostic. But this potential will be particularly harnessed in the new development of the web around the idea of Solid from Sir Tim Berners-Lee, which fully focuses on data sovereignty (see ePIC 2018 presentation from Ruben Verborgh on this).

An invitation to join the discussion

Perhaps you have an opinion on recognition and how it might be made more visible and useful in our personal and professional lives. This is an invitation to join the discussion on Kialo. Follow this link, if you would like to join the discussion.

This article was supported by ideas and comments from Chiara Carlino from CINECA (Italy)