Why volunteers deserve a digital badge

Kathy Valdes, Managing Director of digital skills provider Digital Unite argues that a digital credentialing system is the way to recognise valuable volunteers and motivate people to share their skills with the charity sector.

Guest Writer | 19th Jun 18
Image shows medals in a row. ‘Kathy Valdes, Managing Director of digital inclusion organisation Digital Unite argues for putting a badge on volunteering, helping to recognise valuable volunteers through digital credentialing.

Kathy Valdes is the Managing Director for Digital Unite. She has been working with a range of organisations to look at creative ways of tackling digital exclusion for over 12 years and is still as passionate as ever about getting communities online. Established since 1996 Digital Unite is one of the UK’s leading providers of digital skills learning. Its Digital Champions Network is a unique and comprehensive ‘train the trainer’ platform used to build organisational capacity through the training of thousands of Digital Champions from dozens of member organisations across the UK.

There are huge personal and professional benefits through volunteering as research has shown over the years; from feeling happier and physically healthier to developing interpersonal skills and improving employment opportunities.

From the volunteers we work with we know personal satisfaction is the primary driver but close behind it is also improving self-confidence and knowledge and adding skills and experience to their CVs.

No one can argue with the diverse and accruing benefits of volunteering, but the challenge and opportunity is how to prove them? Given all the good it does for the volunteer, volunteering itself seems curiously to have some distance to travel with regards to formal but appropriate recognition of those values.

The Digital Unite approach

At Digital Unite we’ve been into badging for a while – or digital credentialing as it’s more widely known. In our 22 years we think it is one of the most exciting developments in learning in recent times. It could well offer the volunteering sector an agile way of developing, structuring and tailoring achievement and reward for both the organisations and their volunteers.

So what is digital credentialing? Well essentially it is recognising learning achievement through a digital or Open Badge. A bit like a Scout getting a badge but online rather than on the sleeve of a jumper.

They’re designed to be shareable and transferable, reflecting the agile nature of technology. You can put them in a digital backpack, on online CVs, on Linked In, share them across any digital platform and they move with the individual. As badges build upon each other, they can join together to tell the full story of a person’s skills and achievements.

The growth of Open Badging

Digital credentialing, or Open Badging, has gained significant ground in the last few years and has been integrated into businesses around the world. In the UK this includes O2, BBC, IBM, Siemens and hundreds of schools and universities. When City and Guilds set up their own digital credentialing services business Digitalme in 2016 this movement got another boost.

In today’s digital world recognising people’s skills and competencies in a digital way makes perfect sense.

Through our Digital Champions Network we have given out more than 9,200 badges across our network of 2,500 Champions. We know that evidence of professional development is a key motivator for over half of the volunteers we support (55%).

Our 19 Digital Champions courses deliver certain skills and aptitudes and we give Champions a badge when they satisfy the way they have assimilated knowledge and skill. We also award badges that recognise how Champions are passing on their skills to bring others online.

Spread the word

Admittedly the next big challenge for digital credentialing is a wider one as it will only be as valuable as the market perceives it to be. Indeed we can create all the Digital Champion badges under the sun, but if no one recognises them or knows how to ascribe value to them, well, even the shiniest badges will tarnish.

It’s a communications job as much as anything and of course it will be made ever easier by all the tangible, human examples of badging in action. Digital Champion Maureen has added her Open Badges to her email signature and LinkedInprofile – “I’m proud of what I do and would like to encourage others to learn about how they can help others.”

But just like the Scout movement digital badging can be used to inspire volunteering, to engage communities and to encourage people to develop personally and professionally – and to play much more active, indeed proactive roles, in that process.

We think it’s an exciting step forward in the way volunteers and staff can let the world know the difference they are making.

How do you reward and entice your volunteers through digital means? Share your views in the comment section below.

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