U.S. mayors lead the way on innovation through digital badges

3 min readJun 27, 2016

By Christopher Cabaldon, Mayor of West Sacramento (@MayorCabaldon) and Connie Yowell, CEO of LRNG (@Connie)

The promise of digital badges took a giant leap forward today with a resolution passed by the nation’s mayors. And for millions of disconnected and marginalized young people in the U.S., the future just got considerably brighter.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors passed a resolution today during their summer meeting in Indianapolis that encourages cities across the nation to embrace digital badges for workforce development, employment, financial aid, higher education, and “a broadened conception of student and school outcomes.” The resolution also encourages city leaders to leverage LRNG’s learning platform as a shared digital badging framework.

For mayors, digital badges can be a powerful tool for community improvement. Badges provide avenues for mayors to work across sectors — with employers, local school districts, colleges, and civic institutions — to close gaps in educational attainment, workforce development, and employment of local talent.

LRNG stands ready to support mayors’ work with its youth-centered learning platform that communities across the country can use to badge local learning opportunities and connect young people’s passions to employable skills.

LRNG, a nonprofit initiative, is based on a decade of research and demonstration projects funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning program, which was an early adopter of digital badges as a critical tool for closing the nation’s opportunity gap.

In 2011, MacArthur teamed up with Mozilla Foundation to create an open source standard for creating, validating, issuing, storing and sharing digital badges. Since then, more than 100,000 young people have earned digital badges through DML’s pilot Cities of Learning movement, which has now evolved into LRNG.

This summer, badges will be used throughout a growing number of LRNG Cities, which include West Sacramento and 11 other communities.

LRNG curates learning experiences into themed Playlists, which can combine in-person and online learning experiences and are production-centered. Young people who complete a Playlist and provide proof of their work are awarded a digital badge. LRNG badges contain embedded information about skills and accomplishments that provide a more complete picture of a young person’s qualifications — including so-called “soft” and “hard” skills — that make it easier for employers and colleges to identify youth with appropriate skills.

This summer LRNG learning scientists are working with Best Buy, Fossil, Gap Inc., University of Chicago, WE, and other corporate and nonprofit partners to co-design national Playlists that provide learning opportunities in career readiness, civic tech, game design, personal finance, design, and more.

Meanwhile, local LRNG Cities are creating their own Playlists. For example, LRNG West Sacramento has created a Playlist that allows young people to intern at City Hall in various departments. Designed to provide the necessary skills for an entry level career in public service, the 8-week program combines in-person and online activities to allow learners an opportunity to explore careers in local government. Participants job shadow employees, attend a City Council meeting, and undertake assignments based on their level of experience. Young people emerge with a badge that documents their learning, an in-depth understanding of various careers they might pursue in local government and preferential hiring treatment should they wish to continue a paid internship in the fall and spring of 2017.

Those of us working in this space have long known that digital media is changing not only how young people learn, but what they need to know for life and work in the 21st century. Local community leaders can use badges to connect learning opportunities across sectors, recognize learning wherever it happens, and allow young people to use their digital badges to unlock opportunities for workforce development and to level up their learning.

By encouraging mayors across the country to embrace badges and join the LRNG ecosystem, the U.S. Conference of Mayors is helping prepare all youth for success in the connected age.




LRNG is closing the equity gap by transforming how young people access and experience learning and work, and the paths they take to success.