Building a trusted skills network in the humanitarian sector with Open Badges

Discendum, the creator of Open Badge Factory and Open Badge Passport, has been working with the Humanitarian Leadership Academy and a group of like-minded organisations to incubate a solution for open recognition that can help transform learning and skills development in the humanitarian aid sector.

The Humanitarian Aid Sector

It’s a very large theatre of activity, with lots of players. According to the 2015 State of the Humanitarian Sector, there are over 4400 organisations, 450 thousand paid workers and 17 million volunteers assisting communities affected by crises around the world.

The Humanitarian System!!

Figure 1: The Humanitarian System (ALNAP)

In the First World, we tend to be more aware of the contributions of international “Expatriates” from our countries, but over 90% of paid workers and volunteers in the sector are “Nationals” - citizens of the affected communities that they serve.

The skills and experience of these Nationals in the sector have traditionally been poorly recognised. Why? Because they have typically not been nurtured in formal academic environments, but in informal training workshops and on the job, as they help people in crisis. Certificates for work-related learning and achievement and other forms of recognition have been more the exception than the rule in the sector, especially for Nationals. Yet their on-the-ground, contextualised expertise is often crucial to the success of missions.

The need to improve the development and recognition of National staff takes place within a larger mission: strengthening the humanitarian aid sector and its impact by increasing the effectiveness of organisations and individuals through Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability & Learning (MEAL) systems.

Huge strides have been taken over the last decade to improve the outcomes of the humanitarian ecosystem and its many moving parts. This has been achieved with the help of quality standards, skills frameworks and systems for continuous improvement. The “L” in MEAL typically stands for the integration of “lessons learned” by organisations on missions, but learning programs and platforms for individuals have also sprung up inside large agencies and across the sector, such as and Kaya. These two e-learning portals are free to individuals and provide opportunities to learn useful skills that are mapped to skills frameworks such as the Core Humanitarian Competencies Framework.

But developing and recognising useful skills in this complex and diverse ecosystem is about a lot more than self-directed e-learning courses or attending workshops. Just as organisations need space to reflect on their “lessons learned”, individual humanitarians need reflective opportunities and supports to discover, demonstrate and consolidate skills from their experience. Then they need to be assessed and recognised for those skills in meaningful ways that will connect them to new opportunities over their careers.

They need an Internet of Skills: a flexible, trustable network to connect themselves to other people, organisations, standards, skills and opportunities for aid.

Enter HPass.


HPass, formerly known as the Humanitarian Passport Initiative, is a sector-focused cloud service now incubating at the Humanitarian Leadership Academy, guided by a steering group of several organisations with an interest in learning and development in the humanitarian sector.

HPass works with diverse agencies and other stakeholders to share knowledge and learning content, facilitate access to quality learning and open up recognition of skills and experience in a quality assured system that respects learners.

HPass will use Open Badges as a common currency to recognise the knowledge, skills, abilities and achievements of humanitarians. In the “proof of concept” phase now coming to a close, early adopter organisations have been creating and issuing badges using Open Badge Factory accounts provided pro bono by Discendum. These early adopter organisations include the Humanitarian Leadership Academy itself, Save the Children and PM4NGOs.

Discendum has also provided the storage platform for earned badges on pro bono basis for the proof of concept phase. It’s a Community Edition of Open Badge Passport based on Salava, the open source software originally funded by the Macarthur Foundation. Badges issued from Open Badge Factory by participating humanitarian organisations are directed by default to free earner accounts on this dedicated humanitarian passport. This concentration of humanitarian badges will help build a critical mass for network effects in skills recognition in the online community.

Moving forward, the glue for this emerging badge-enabled skills marketplace will be provided by a layered trust network, consisting of quality standards for Learning Providers and for Assessment Providers, support for alignment to competency frameworks and robust quality assurance and endorsement mechanisms.

Individuals, employers, volunteer organisations, learning and assessment providers, credentialing bodies and other networked services will all be able to contribute to and harvest value from this unique Internet of Skills for the humanitarian sector.


Figure 2: Proof of Concept Phase (draft schematic)

Pilot and launch in 2018

HPass will be moving from its proof of concept sandbox to begin an integrated pilot early in 2018. The integrated pilot will test the interaction of badge issuing, badge sharing, quality assurance standards and the sustainability of the system as a whole. A full launch is planned for late 2018.

As the proof of concept phase comes to an end, Discendum is now competing to become the ongoing vendor of record for HPass.

HPass welcomes inquiries from other early adopters who may wish to join in the initiative. Interested organisations can contact to explore further.


Don Presant, Learning Agents

Discendum is an active member of the Open Badges community and developer of Open Badge Factory and Open Badge Passport. Open Badge Factory is a cloud service that organisations can use for creating and issuing Open Badges. Open Badge Passport is a free service where users can receive, earn and display badges but also use badges to create miniportfolios, connect, communicate and collaborate.