What is HPass, and why did we decide to use digital credentials to improve skills recognition for humanitarians?
It’s a familiar narrative: across the world, roles and workplaces are evolving at an accelerating pace, requiring workers to engage in lifelong learning in addition to early career education, in order to adapt and keep up with change. We’ve all heard it before, but nowhere is this truer than in the humanitarian sector, where new threats such as climate change and prolonged conflict, the challenges and opportunities posed by new technologies, and changing North/South power, economic and funding dynamics, are requiring an already fast-moving sector to adapt faster and with greater urgency than ever before.
HPass is a digital credentialing platform designed to support lifelong learning for humanitarians, enabling them to collect credentials from multiple issuing organisations on a dedicated passport known as myHPass. It is a multi-stakeholder initiative led by the Humanitarian Leadership Academy and is already used by over 30 organisations, from household names such as World Vision, Save the Children and Norwegian Refugee Council, to smaller local training providers. Currently, 23,000 humanitarians from across the globe use myHPass to display badges as evidence of their skills.
We chose to develop myHPass around a badge passport because:
- It enables humanitarians to maintain one record of their skills throughout their careers, as they move between locations and organisations, promoting the transferability of credentials. In addition to evidencing specific skills, the myHPass profile as a whole showcases the individual’s commitment to learning and upskilling to meet new challenges in the sector as they arise.
- Digital credentials offer a transparent method of recognising all kinds of experience, which is particularly relevant in the humanitarian sector, where much valuable knowledge stems from the practical experience of those living in crisis-affected areas, as opposed to formal courses which can be time-consuming and expensive.
- Digital credentials offer an efficient method of verifying an individual’s skills, critical for rapid recruitment and deployment during an emergency response.
What we’ve learnt so far about building a digital credentialing initiative for a global sector
I’ve been privileged to work on HPass throughout its development phase and since we first began issuing credentials in 2019. I’m an active participant in digital badging/credentialing forums, and see HPass as different from many other badging initiatives in that,
- It aims to be a sector-wide rather than organisation-specific initiative, and
- It is truly global – its users come from many different countries, and many different backgrounds within those countries, in terms of levels of internet access, technological skills, language etc (the majority of badging initiatives currently serve audiences in Europe and the US).
As a result of these differences, we are learning a lot about the challenges of introducing digital credentials to new audiences. We are still on our journey, continuing to evolve HPass and shape it around the needs of its unique user base.
Here are some things we have learnt about building a sector-specific initiative:
- Many different types and sizes of organisations have signed up to use HPass – NGOs, universities, INGOs, and small private training providers. What unites these organisations is the presence of individual champions that are invested in the long-term vision of HPass. Whilst appreciating the big picture, these individuals are simultaneously able to find ways to start small by badging individual pathways or courses which introduce their audiences to digital credentials.
- In order for the platform to recognise many different types of learning and experience, HPass does not impose minimum requirements in terms of what each badge must represent (ie the length of a course or placement, the inclusion of an assessment etc), but instead asks that the badge metadata be as transparent as possible. We’ve definitely had success with learning pathways that incentivise users to earn several badges along the way. However, we remain aware of a slight tension between two of the platform’s objectives – the desire to support rapid recruitment suggests a need to standardise so that credentials are easily comparable by employers, while the desire to be able to recognise a wide spectrum of different experiences and achievements suggests the need for a much more flexible approach.
Much of our focus has so far been on supporting organisations to issue credentials rather than using them in recruitment. We are excited about developing features to help employers identify individuals with suitable skills. Along with the rest of the badging community, we need to focus on engaging with employers to ensure digital credentials have value in the labour market.
Here are some things we have learnt about building a global initiative:
- Commitment to the traditional paper certificate is stronger in many parts of the world than it is in Europe and the US. It’s not uncommon in many places for people to print participation certificates and add them to a physical portfolio alongside their CV. For this reason, issuing digital credentials alongside quality, printable certificates will increase uptake. Terminology also matters – the notion of a ‘badge’ carries less gravitas than a ‘certificate’, even though a badge may provide more information on what the recipient has actually achieved.
- We have needed to develop clear and simple communications about digital badges and how they can be used, which assumes no prior knowledge from our audiences. There is ongoing effort required to communicate why digital credentials are useful in a world where recruitment is moving online. These messages cannot be repeated often enough! Sometimes our own familiarity with the concept of digital credentials blinds us to the fact that it is completely new for most people.
Global internet coverage is continuously improving but poor connectivity is still a major hindrance in areas such as South Sudan and Yemen – often the very areas where humanitarians operate. In future, we hope to make HPass more accessible by enabling badges to be viewed and displayed offline.
Building a recognition community
Ultimately, HPass is a community of individuals and organisations committed to the vision of a more user-centred, coordinated approach to learning in the humanitarian sector. Our long-term success will depend on strengthening that recognition community so that HPass becomes known and understood as widely as possible.
At HPass we are currently building a recognition community which incorporates two distinct groups, 1) individual humanitarians that use myHPass, and 2) organisations that issue digital credentials to myHPass. A third, critical group in future will be the employers and hiring managers that use myHPass to inform recruitment decisions.
Here are some of the approaches we are testing to build a community for our two current groups:
Creating added value for myHPass users, by:
- Rewarding users who are committed to their professional development and to sharing learning with others, through initiatives such as HPass Learner of the Year awards, HPass Community Champions, and ‘myHPass profile of the month’. Communication is really important to demonstrate that by earning credentials and developing skills, myHPass users will get noticed and become more visible to potential recruiters.
- Offering discounts on paid-for learning to myHPass users with a minimum number of credentials on their profile.
- Developing career guidance to enable humanitarians to make targeted choices about their learning and skills development which support their specific ambitions.
Building a network of HPass organisations, by:
- Providing tailored induction training to meet each organisation’s needs, recognising that some have dedicated learning and development departments, whilst others have very limited staff capacity.
- Showcasing interesting approaches and ideas developed by HPass organisations, through webinars and newsletters.
- Creating pathways which include badges from multiple organisations, to coordinate across organisations and reduce duplication of effort.
- Creating communications materials to enable organisations to explain HPass to their specific audiences.
We’ve come so far and there’s still a huge amount to learn and achieve. I’m really excited about the next HPass chapter, as we continue to build a thriving recognition community for our sector.
Written for OEB 2022 by Esther Grieder.
Esther is speaking at this year’s OEB conference. Found out more about his/her presentation here: https://oeb.global/programme/agenda/oeb-22/sessions/24634