Creating Interoperable Networks and Systems Through the GDN Network

The Groningen Declaration Network (GDN) aims to create a secure and scalable global digital record exchange system. They propose principles and recommendations to align efforts towards adopting best practices for network design. The focus is on fostering adoption of shared principles and standards for secure, citizen-centered digital student data exchange. GDN emphasizes collaboration, open standards, and verifiable credential technologies. They believe in promoting global collaboration and standardization, adopting open standards, investing in verifiable credential technologies, and launching education and training initiatives for stakeholders.



Mobility across the globe is becoming increasingly common, with people moving proactively and reactively following their aspirations or escaping circumstances – spanning countries, geographic boundaries with or without prior credential documentation and definitions.  Institutions, potential employers, and government agencies face challenges in recognizing achievements, skills, competencies, and experiences gained outside familiar contexts, due to the high costs associated with reviewing and assessing such achievements. These challenges are compounded by fragmented record-keeping practices, lack of standardized definitions, reliance on decentralized truth sources, and the security of records maintained by a limited number of entities. 

Credential Portability

Credential portability is viewed through a spectrum of comparability and familiarity, focusing on how societal participants recognize credentials beyond a surface level. It is crucial for learners transitioning between institutions due to job changes, relocation, or other reasons, ensuring their prior achievements and experiences are recognized. 

Credential portability also aids employers in hiring and promotion decisions by enabling easy comparison of qualifications. The process involves the electronic or manual transfer of records between institutions, affirming the recognition and acceptance of the learner’s qualifications.


Interoperability enables distinct information systems to communicate and understand the information exchanged between them by utilizing shared forms of data and protocols. There are four principal types of interoperability: foundational, syntactic, structural, and semantic. Each plays a critical role in facilitating comprehensive and effective data exchange.

Steps to Interoperability

Based on the comprehensive analysis and insights drawn from the report, the following key recommendations are proposed to advance the goals of the Groningen Declaration Network (GDN) and its stakeholders in enhancing global digital record exchange and interoperability within the post-secondary education sector:

Encourage and facilitate collaboration among international educational institutions, industry stakeholders, and technology providers to develop and adopt a unified set of standards for digital credentialing. This should include the establishment of common data definitions, access methods, and interoperability protocols that can transcend local and national differences, leveraging insights from successful organizational approaches and technological models outlined in the report.

Advocate for the adoption of open architectural models such as the Hub-and-Spoke system and user experience designs that prioritize self-sovereignty, such as the Self-Controlled model. These approaches have shown promise in enhancing portability, accessibility, and control over digital credentials for learners, which aligns with the GDN’s mission of facilitating secure, citizen-centered consultation and digital data portability.

Support the research, development, and implementation of verifiable credentials technologies as viable solutions for creating tamper-proof, universally recognizable, and portable digital credentials. This recommendation is informed by the successful case studies of Blockcerts and the evolving Verifiable Credentials Data Model, which offer scalable, privacy-respecting, and environmentally sustainable alternatives to traditional credentialing systems.

Implement comprehensive educational programs and training initiatives aimed at policymakers, institutional management, and technical staff across the education sector. These programs should focus on raising awareness of the benefits of digital credential interoperability, providing guidance on best practices for system implementation, and offering technical support for adopting new technologies and standards. Such initiatives could help overcome barriers to adoption, mitigate fears of vulnerability, and foster a culture of innovation and collaboration in digital credentialing.


The various organizations operating digital credential systems on a national level can be categorized into four main forms:

  • Government agencies
  • Independent non-profit organizations
  • Associations of higher education institutions or institution’s registrars
  • Individual higher education institutions without centralized oversight

The role these organizations serve is to either (a) develop and operate the digital credential system or (b) select vendors for the digital credential system and oversee its development by the vendor.

image by Koichi Nakasaki


Digital Credential Technology

There are four basic components in a digital credentialing system: its architecture, document type, user experience, and interoperability. Each of these components have various potential options, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.


Central Depository
Exchange Network
Hub and Spoke



User -Experience

Request to Send
Self-Browsed and Shared


PDF Digital Signature
Open Badge 2.0 / Comprehensive Learner Records 1.0
Verifiable Credentials Data Model

Term of Reference

At the GDN 2022 meeting the community expressed a desire for the GDN to stand up a working group for the sole purpose of guiding for those who are seeking to create a interoperable credential exchange network at the national level.

The groups focus was to remain on exploring the dimension of interoperability from a technical perspective, hence this site.

Below are the Board approved terms of reference for the subsequent working group;

Supporting the GDN’s vision of student mobility through trusted electronic data exchange, integration, open standards and interoperability.

This working group is tasked with: 

  • Consult an expert panel of GDN members and experts in technology, data privacy, and  international credential exchange to understand the current and planned efforts to  promote interoperability of digital credentials (by April 2023);  
  • Develop a white paper describing principles of interoperability of digital credential  portability (by August 2023) that will provide a framework and recommendations for  exploring new technologies that enable data sharing while promoting individual agency,  security, and privacy by design; 
  • Develop recommendations for future GDN activities and collaborations to advance  credential portability through technology interoperability (August 2023).

The GDN principles and statement of ethics guide the work of the group. It is expected that the  final report and work be anchored in these explicitly. Further, members of this working group  should be current signatories to the GDN or become signatories by GDN Jordan.

Gratitude is extended to the following people for their contributions to this project.

– Simone Ravaioli, Director Global Ecosystem and Innovation, Instructure.
– Koichi Nakasaki, Chief Research Officer, Institute for Future Engineering.
– David Haynes, CEO, International Education Evaluations.
– David Moldoff, CEO and Founder, AcademyOne.
– Joanne Duklas, Founder, Duklas Cornerstone Consulting Inc.
– Jan Joost Norder, Product Owner, Dienst Uitvoering Onderwijs.
– Takis Diakoumis, CTO, Digitary by Parchment.
– Victoriano Giralt, Head SysAdmin, University of Málaga
– Sharon Leu, Executive In Residence, JFFLabs.

-Clements et al 2020. Clements, Kyle; West, Richard E.; Hunsaker, Enoch (2020): Getting Started With Open Badges and Open Microcredentials. In: The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 21(1), 154-156

-MIT Media Lab June 2016. MIT Media Lab. What we learned from designing an academic certificates system on the blockchain. Jun 2016.

-Diuffy, Schmidt and Nazare 2016. Kim Hamilton Duffy, J. Philipp Schmidt, Juliana Nazaré. What we learned from designing an academic certificates system on the blockchain. MIT Media Lab. Jun 3, 2016.

-Power 2021. Ross Power. SSI: self-sovereign identity explained. Nov 10, 2021. Medium. 

-Schembri 2018. Frankie Schembri. Digital diplomas – Blockchain technology gives grads control over their academic credentials. MIT Technology Review. April 25, 2018

-Der, U. Jähnichen and Sürmeli 2017. Der, U., Jähnichen, S., & Sürmeli, J. (2017). Self-sovereign Identity – Opportunities and Challenges for the Digital Revolution. Computer Science. Published in ArXiv, abs/1712.01767.

-W3C DID 2021. Decentralized Identifiers (DIDs) v1.0 – Core architecture, data model, and representations. W3C. W3C Proposed Recommendation 03 August 2021

-DCC 2020. Digital Credential Consortium. Building the Digital Credential Infrastructure for the Future. 2020/02. 

-DCC 2020. Digital Credential Consortium. Building the Digital Credential Infrastructure for the Future. 2020/02. 

-Kelly 2021. O’Neill, Kelly. (2021). Digital Credential Vendor Selection: An Organizational Fiduciary Responsibility.

Images based on work by Koichi Nakasaki (Chief Research Officer, Institute for Future Engineering)

Research and Resources