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What are digital credentials?

If you were a scout once or served in the army, the idea of a badge wouldn’t be new to you: often it is represented as a patch that you can sew on your uniform or a kind of medal – in any case it is a visual expression of skill that you obtained and proofed:

In the digital age, a badge is not a patch anymore although there is still some graphical element that can be claimed in various places e.g. on a website, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or other platforms. These graphical elements carry additional information e.g. on how the badge was acquired i.e. what skills were demonstrated and how they got validated. The meta data format is often referenced to a standard called Open Badges 2.0 and more recently Open Badges 2.1. It typically contains the following information: 

(c) Bryan M Mathers

The concept of Open Badges has been implemented in a range of use cases, which you have probably seen already claimed on various platforms. The purpose is often to recognize achievements, create transparent career pathways, enable transitions between systems (occupational, geographical etc.) and more. 

Are digital badges the same like digital credentials? Doug Belshaw is providing an easy to understand overview of what credentials are and what value they have: 

CC BY Doug Belshaw

Other than in the past when digital credentials were often just simple PDF and prone to being tampered, the use of blockchain and other cryptographic tools has lead to sealed credentials that are part of a registry that is owned by an issuer. In an additional step, the credential can be verified by : 

CC-BY SA 4.0 Daniel H Hardman

Credentials are a form of credits but might not be limited to it. The most valuable form of credits in Europe are the so called “ECTS” (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System). In the world of the European Higher Education system, one year of study is equivalent to 60 ECTS points, hence a Bachelor degree is issued when accumulating 180 ECTS points and a Masters degree with 240 ECTS points. What was so revolutionary about the Bologna process in which ECTS has been introduced is the principle of stackability (credits can be built on each other to obtain a degree) and mobility (recognition in different countries). In North America, the concept of the Continuing Education Units are playing a similar role e.g. in programs such as PMP certifications, NASBA etc.

A practical use case for adopting verified digital credentials is the example of the Credivera Wallet, that is owned by a driver. It can link several issuers dynamically such as the driving license issuer as well as a training provider for logistics which has issued a certificate for carrying dangerous goods. The combination of these two credentials leads to a certain capability which has value for the employer when choosing the right employee for the job. 

On a societal level, the ownership of these data and access to registries plays a central role, this is where the Self-Souvereign Identity (SSI) comes into effect: the owner of the credential wallet that is linked to a verified identity (e.g. via a digital passport) can choose where personal data is linked to and can also minimize data that is shared e.g. with employers. In North America, the Pan-American Trust Framework is working on the digital ecosystem of exchanging these credentials, in Europe it is the GAIA-X community:

ICoBC plays a crucial role in connecting the dots between the different initiatives and identifies suitable use cases that can scale globally. Join one of our working groups to learn more about our current focus areas.