Tag Archives: Campaign Strategy

14 Questions to ask when facilitating an organizational vision

iStock_000015298832XSmallLast month a good friend called me up in a bit of a panic. “I’m chairing another citizen’s meeting next week”, she said, “but I’m afraid it’s going to go like all the others: we’re going to generate a big laundry list of tactics, drink a lot of bad coffee, eat too many cookies and go home feeling dissatisfied. And bloated. We’re thinking too small. We need a vision!” So we talked about the different ways she could lead her folks into bolder, more inspiring territory through a visioning process.

There are many ways to facilitate a group of people through a visioning process. Most of them are rich, often profound and always creative. The essential process is about marrying imagination and strategy – taking intuitive, creative and informed leaps into a possible, aspirational future.

One of the most powerful approaches is a “guided visualization”. I have led dozens of groups through guided visualizations as part of a visioning process over the past decade. Inspired by Inc. magazine’s list of “14 questions you need to ask when crafting a vision for your businesses success”, here’s the list that I implicitly use. These can be adjusted for individuals, small business or non-profits. In practice, I develop a script tailored to the unique needs and assets of each client group, but it usually contains these elements.

  1. Time frame… 3-5 years? 10 years? Collins and Porras, in Built to Last, recommend 10-30 years. Notions of “purpose” and “core ideology” are more long-term; visions change relatively more quickly to reflect the changing internal and external dynamics of organizations.
  2. Stories….. Start with a specific time and place, specific characters, and a setting… Where are you, in your mind’s eye? Put yourself in the picture! As I described in an earlier post about stories, scan your senses: lights, temperature, movement of the air, sound, smells… Who is there? What’s happening? This will get you into the story in a deeply personal way, unleashing more of your own creative, imaginative power.
  3. Major accomplishments: What are you most proud of? Get emotional, personal and specific. What are your top 1-3 major accomplishments or “big wins”? Imagine there was a feature article about your success. What did the headlines say? What difference did this make in the world?
  4. Breakthroughs: In the past X years, what is the most significant breakthrough that launched the organization into a whole new level of wild success? How? What happened? Who helped make it happen? What was different?
  5. People you serve: Whose lives is your work touching? Who are you serving? How exactly are they engaging with you? Zero in on one or two ‘representative’ individuals… Why are they choosing to engage with your messages, services or products? What’s in it for them?
  6. Allies: Are there new or unusual allies that contributed to your success as an organization? As an individual?
  7. Your niche: Notice other groups similar to your own… How is yours specifically unique and different?
  8. No-go zones: What are some services or approaches that your organization does NOT offer or do?
  9. Internal collaboration: How are people working together internally? What is the feeling/tone of that work? How are teams working with one another ‘across silos’? What’s new and different? Why is it working so well? What are the specific structures and practices that are making this new level of collaboration so successful?
  10. People in the organization: Who is working in the organization – what do they look like, demographically? What is the collective culture like? What practices or group norms do you notice?
  11. Leadership: Who is leading the organization? How are they leading? What’s it like? Is it different? If so, how?
  12. Resources: What kind of abundance is the organization enjoying? What does that look like, specifically?
  13. Geographic scope: Where are you working, and not working – are there specific communities? Regions? How focused are you?
  14. What else… What else do you notice that’s different, or the same, in this successful, deeply satisfying future?

Afterword: So I whipped up a script based pretty well on all these questions and emailed it off to my friend, and she used it to lead the group through a closed-eye visualization process. She did an amazing job – it was by all accounts a fantastic success. After the visualization, she helped everyone share their individual insights and arrive at a few core themes that resonated for the whole group. They left feeling energized, inspired, and aligned around a whole new level of collective work. And it’s entirely possible that they didn’t scarf down quite so many cookies.

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5 Qualities of a great organizational vision

goldfish jumping to new bowl-iStock_000020130958XSmallQuick: think of an organization or business you know and love. Maybe it’s one you actually work or volunteer at. What’s their vision for success? In other words, what’s the specific statement or narrative that they use to describe wild, vivid, success in, say, ten or twenty years? Chances are they have one – but you don’t know what it is of the top of your head, even if you work there. Or they have one – but it’s so broad as to be virtually meaningless. Maybe it’s just a vague platitude, like “an end to world hunger.” True, it’s not easy to come up with a clear, powerful vision. But the process itself can be a wonderfully creative experience. And once developed, an effective vision can be a rich source of fuel and inspiration for years to come.

Truly great organizational visions tend to have 5 key qualities. And, no surprise – – these are the same qualities of effective social change messages of all kinds:

  1. Visual: This seems like a no-brainer, but visions should, in fact, involve imagery – vivid pictures, told in words, that literally stimulate the visual cortex of listeners. “In 30 years we will have achieved world peace” is certainly aspirational, but it’s not visual.
  2. Motivating: Effective visions are emotionally compelling, and deeply motivating. They speak to the heart and gut – not just the head. They inspire people to act, to keep going when the going is tough, to dig down a little deeper because with that extra push, the beauty and power of that collective vision feels within reach
  3. Achievable: Powerful visions are like big “stretch goals” – their achievement may be well out of our comfort zone, it may call for great acts of courage and perseverance – but it is actually possible to get there. They are, in the words of Ari Weinsweig, “strategically sound.”
  4. Positive: Effective visions are stated in the positive – what we are FOR, not what we’re AGAINST. That’s easier said than done for many social change organizations whose orientation has been focused on stopping oppression or negative environmental and economic development.
  5. “Spreadable”: Like any good, ‘sticky’ story, effective visions can be repeated, spread like a happy virus from one team member to another, and beyond. If they are too long, boring, or conceptual (versus vivid and grounded in tangible imagery and action), we can be pretty certain they will sit on shelves gathering dust. John Kotter, author of “Leading Change”, suggests that it should be possible to convey a great vision in no more than 5 minutes. That way, they can be communicated as a regular, cherished practice across all levels of the organization. His research suggests that most companies under-communicate their visions by a factor of 10.

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7 Steps to Creating An Effective Internal Communications Plan

“It’s so ironic,” sighed Angela, a campaign director with a large civil rights organization. We were sitting in her sun-lit board-room discussing the results of a new organizational assessment. “We’ve just led one of the most successful anti-discrimination campaigns in the state. But half of our staff barely know the story, other than what they read in our news releases. The other half know all about it – but couldn’t talk about our organizational vision if their lives depended on it.” She looked up. “We’ve got to do a better job of communicating with our own people.”

 

Sometimes the most effective spokespeople and media relations experts “fall down” when it comes to reaching their own internal audiences. The good news is, we already know what makes communication effective. We live in a world that demands it: being inundated with messaging 24/7 has forced us to become sophisticated consumers of messaging and communications. We just need to apply that same knowledge to our own teams. Whether it’s a simple intra-office memo or communications around a transformational change initiative, here are the basic components of an effective internal communications plan.

1. Clarify your purpose

For specific communications, get specific about your purpose. For example, is the message being delivered for information only, to generate feedback, to generate new ideas, or is a specific action required?

2. Clarify your desired outcome(s)

Do you need a response in writing by a certain time or prior to a particular event? Are you seeking a list of 3-5 new ideas? How specific can you reasonably be about how you will define success? This step is essential for identifying the benchmarks and metrics you’ll use to evaluate your results.

3. Know your audience

  • Identify your target audience. Who exactly do you need to reach? Is it ‘everyone in the organization’ – or are the most important people, in fact, a few key influencers or opinion leaders (which has nothing to do with positional power, necessarily), individuals with specific skills, or one or two key decision-makers?
  • Meet them where they’re at. What do they already know, believe or feel about the issue? If you’re talking about a brand-new concept, then a little informational background will be essential. If they are aware of the issue, but highly skeptical, then your messages and framing will need to address that, not just gloss over it.

4. Develop the strategy

  • Identify pathways. What are the most effective pathways for reaching your particular target audience(s)? Is it email? Written memos (remember those?) A phone call? Face to face meeting? Intranet? Social media? Cloud platforms such as google drive? Hard copy memos inserted into payroll packages? A display board in the staff common room?
  • Consider messengers. Also ask: who’s the most effective messenger? It may not be you. It may not be the most senior executive. Does your audience instead need to hear the message from a trusted peer? Do you need internal champions to move the issue forward?

5. Develop the message

Now that you’ve identified and ‘profiled’ your audience, develop your message. It should be short, clear, compelling, and ideally, visual. It is very likely positive – focused on what the team is for, rather than what it’s against. If you deliver the message through stories, it will almost certainly be ‘sticky’ – both memorable and high-impact.

6. Deliver the message

Effective communications are really about delivering the right message, to the right audience, at the right time – often many times. So plan it out. Here are some elements to think about:

  • People power: Who needs to do what, by when? Who is the decision-maker? Who needs to be consulted? Who needs to be informed? Who’s doing the actual work? Is there a lead, or internal ‘project manager’ to ensure the work is proceeding as planned?
  • Timing: When is the optimum time to deliver the message? How often does it need to be repeated?
  • Resources: How much time will it take – and are there other resources required? How is this work reflected on internal workplans, if at all?
  • Metrics: How will you know the message is received? How will you know the desired results are being achieved? When and how are you scheduling evaluation along the way (see below)?

7. Evaluate and learn

Don’t just identify metrics for tracking progress – revisit them on a regular basis. Use what they teach you. Build evaluation into monthly and quarterly reviews, for example. And include it as a routine practice or group norm: for instance, at every staff meeting, include a standing agenda item that has the team reflect on its internal communications. Include tracking questions on annual internal organizational surveys. Questions could be as simple as: How well are we communicating our organizational vision? How well are we keeping one another abreast of one another’s work and results? How are we doing with having “courageous’ conversations” in a timely, skillful way? How are we doing with email brevity and appropriateness? How are we doing with the preparation and use of well-crafted briefing notes? Insanity has been defined as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Building in evaluation at every level of your communications will interrupt any bias toward activities and help teams focus on results. With routinized evaluation, your internal communications, and therefore your internal alignment and collective ability to get things done, will continually improve.

Sample Plans

Here’s a great multi-agency plan for a set of child-focused Irish agencies attempting to collaborate more effectively. There are clear, high–level messages, a broad but clear set of audiences and a list of tactics tailored somewhat for each audience, plus a broad-stroke timeline. The challenge with the plan is its lack of metrics – how will they measure success?

The ITSMF, a forum for Information Technology professionals, offers a great internal communications plan to its members. Out of respect for its chapter model, it is not overly prescriptive, but does suggest useful types of metrics that could form the basis for continual evaluation.

The global organization Civicus also offers a short, useful case study on pages 17-19 of its internal communications toolkit. Evaluation is mentioned under “next steps”, with specific reference to a follow-up survey to track results over time.

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Canadian Women Voters Congress: Call for Board nominations

Did you know that there are more women holding elected office in Afghanistan than there are in Canada?  The Canadian Women Voter’s Congress has worked long and hard  to ensure women in Canada have the skills and confidence to actively participate in democracy. They offer longest-running non-partisan Women’s Campaign School in Canada.  They’re currently seeking nominations for its Board of Directors; the deadline is May 26, 2013. It’s a fantastic leadership opportunity. Click here for more information.

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Beyond the message box: Facilitating an “oppositional role-play”

In last week’s post about developing a campaign message box, I described how often social change advocates have difficulty truly understanding the ‘other side’. Without that understanding, it is hard to effectively inoculate against or counter the arguments of opponents.  But even more importantly, being so stubbornly entrenched in our own positions makes it difficult to move forward toward lasting, shared solutions. And of course, sometimes the ‘other side’ is us: opposing points of view exist within healthy, smart teams. This is a very good thing – otherwise we risk the dull homogeneity and conformity of ‘groupthink’, and all the blind spots and lack of creativity it engenders.  But there is a fine line between a healthy diversity of views, and out-and-out, ego-based positioning.  As facilitators, there are a number of techniques we can use to help loosen those deeply oppositional patterns. One of them is through role-playing.

Earlier this Spring I was facilitating a planning retreat with a coalition of non-profit leaders embroiled in a difficult strategy debate. It was after lunch; people were sleepy, those hideous fluorescent lights were flickering ever so slightly, the arguments were repetitive, and a couple of people were starting to emotionally check out. At this point, the group was ‘looping’: repeating the same arguments and counter-arguments, talking at (versus with) one another and not really getting anywhere.

As I watched, it became clear that one particularly passionate member – let’s call him Jim – wasn’t really listening or responding to the other side in the debate. So I asked if he’d be willing to do a brief role-play – in reverse. In other words, I asked Jim to suspend his own position for a few minutes to role-play the perspectives and messages of his ‘opponents’ within the group. Another volunteer – who disagreed with him pretty vehemently – gamely stepped in to represent Jim’s real arguments. Immediately, the group perked up (was there just the faintest touch of Gladiator in the room?!).

At first, it was painful to watch. Jim had a strong self-image as being a great listener, open to new ideas and largely free from ego-attachment to his positions. In fact, many of us feel that way about ourselves; yet when it comes to issues we care passionately about, virtually all of us could use a little work and support in the ‘deep listening’ department.  Mere seconds into the role-play, it became apparent that Jim wasn’t really getting the opposing arguments at all, despite having heard many of them for weeks.  He was barely able to articulate them. Even when he did, he could barely do so without sneering!

“Come on, Jim”, I urged him, “make us believe!! Convince us! Say it like you really mean it!!”   He chuckled sheepishly,  took a deep breath, and tried again. After a while – egged on with some friendly heckling from the sidelines – he began to really fill the shoes of the other side – to really start embodying (and therefore understanding more deeply) a perspective that was very different from his own.

As soon as each side relinquished their stubborn grasp on entrenched positions, things got interesting. The tenor in the room changed noticeably – and a longstanding ‘energetic’ (and intellectual) log-jam finally broke.  At this point, egos were set aside so that each party was truly listening to the other.

The concept of ‘deep listening’ to resolve conflicts isn’t new. As author Steven Covey urges,  “seek first to understand, then to be understood”.  Only then is an authentic collaborative solution – or at the very least, a more thoughtful solution – truly possible. Role-plays offer a chance to really work this concept, forcing us to go beyond a surface understanding of very different positions so that we may fully embody and deeply understand them. At the very least, if we are still simply countering those positions, we will be far more convincing and effective. At the same time, deep understanding allows us to go beyond the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ framing of the message box to hold more complexity, and possibly discover new creative solutions to tired, rigid perspectives.

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Training the next generation of progressive political leaders

Training the next generation of progressive political leaders is the focus of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Progressive Leadership. Their particular focus is on under-represented candidates and leaders, including women, people of colour, and GBLTQ folks, in 5 key US states.  I’m thrilled to be on the team of trainers for CPL’s upcoming training in Philadelphia this weekend (April 10-11, 2010), focusing on message development, story-telling, public speaking and mainstream media tools.  This will be my first training with CPL, and the second of five intensive weekend retreats for their 54 participants, as part of a year-long fellowship for leaders in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, friends tell me, is “the quintessential American city” – diverse, blue-collar, crammed with classic diners and home to the Liberty Bell.  I haven’t seen much yet – the training starts tomorrow – but I CAN say Philly has fantastic restaurants, tons of snappy energy and the CPL team is really, really smart. It’s intoxicating to be hanging out with people who regularly refer to “message boxes” and “progressive narratives” in the same breath!

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Mapping it out: Social change approaches

In earlier posts, I mulled over social change overall, the need and opportunity for describing shared visions for the change, and two overarching paths (social marketing/education and policy/advocacy) to pushing change along the ‘social diffusion bell curve”. The lens for all these ideas is focused on social change organizations, or actors, in terms of their approaches to ‘pushing’ change along the bell-curve of a community.

Within the broader policy/advocacy vs. social marketing/education frames, most organizations concentrate on one or two specific strategies. Here’s a menu of some of the most basic strategies. Within each of these, there are further subsets of strategies and approaches. As I see it, they’re all important, and they all have a role. But some approaches leverage change more quickly, systematically and broadly (across communities) than others, depending on the degree to which they focus on systems vs. individuals.

1. Direct service: This is ground zero for perhaps most charities in North America and Europe, and it is the zone where most people are pretty comfortable. Say the word “charity” and most folks tend to think of traditional direct service non-profits focused on health, education, and poverty reduction. Directly provided goods and services are vitally important to the ‘clients’ in need, and can change individual lives. Examples: food distributed through food banks; support services for the disabled; settlement services for new Canadians; or methadone treatment programs for addicts. They could also include “personal development” kinds of service. The tag-line for the Bikram’s Yoga Studio down the street is: “building strong communities by building strong individuals.” This kind of direct, one-on-one support is vitally important – AND, it seldom leverages change for larger groups of people in any sustainable way. Direct services fall in the “give a man a fish” category.

2. Social marketing/Education: Social marketing focuses on trying to reach larger numbers of people to change individual attitudes or behaviours. Here, I’m conflating social marketing and education. Education is almost always a part of social marketing campaigns. It makes sense: people won’t adapt new behaviours or attitudes unless they encounter plenty of facts and ‘validators’ to back up the new idea, facts that tend to fit within their pre-existing ‘frames’ or terms of reference. Examples of social marketing campaigns: public health campaigns focused on anti-smoking, fitness, condom use; anti-bullying education; drinking-and-driving education; or reducing energy consumption. But like direct services, social marketing campaigns focus on individuals, rather than systems. They may focus on relatively large numbers of people, but don’t really address the landscape in which people make decisions in the first place.

3. Business/consumerism: In the past 20 years across Europe and North America, the CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) world has exploded. The underlying assumption for CSR advocates is that as market economies are here to stay, and allow educated consumers to “vote” for some kinds of change with their dollars : so let’s develop pockets and swirls of positive, equity-focused, environmentally responsible market forces that can eventually shift the voluntary behaviour of at least some corporations and market sectors. Examples of CSR initiatives range from the development of “climate-friendly mortgages” (eg. to encourage energy efficient building and renovations), organic foods and fair trade consumer products, to cross-branding with progressive social causes (eg. The Red Campaign). On the consulting side, there’s a host of “sustainability practitioners” to go along with the trend (I confess to still not understanding what that means, exactly!). This so-called “pocket-book activism” has power in numbers – huge numbers – of consumers. Presumably, if alternative markets develop and become sufficiently large to truly compete with resource-depleting, inequitable, conventional businesses, they can yield change in the broader system over time. Or, one could argue, pocketbook activism can lull consumers into thinking they’ve done their bit, without substantially changing anything.

4. Policy Advocacy: Advocacy – that is, advocacy centred around clear calls for policy change – addresses power. It is a central strategy for many environmental and anti-poverty groups in their roles as “third party” influencers of the actual decision-makers. Activists often use the term “advocacy” to mean a wide range of activities, from government relations (seeking to influence policy, and decision-makers, through relationship-building and persuasion) to rabble-rousing (negative media attention, petitions, public rallies, organizing and voter education). These efforts come with an implicit (but not always clear) call to action in terms of corporate or governmental policy change. The role of third parties is tricky, because no matter how intense or ‘loud’ advocacy efforts may be, they won’t necessarily lead to change. Advocacy has to be linked to a clear understanding of actual levers of power in the decision-making process. Is there a city council vote coming up? A Treasury Board or finance committee debate about the next budget? A desperate need for supporters by one potential candidate in an upcoming internal party nomination campaign?

Before moving along the continuum, it’s worth pausing to map out this territory a bit further – because it is the primary approach used by most social change organizations. Again, by ‘social change’ (vs. social wellbeing) organizations, I mean those organizations seeking to change the system, or triggers within the system, in order to leverage greater equity or environmental responsibility. Within this policy advocacy realm, there are many strategies groups use to shift power and effect systemic change:

‘Public will’: Public will campaigns are about mobilizing ‘key publics’ to communicate with their elected officials in sufficiently strong numbers and effective formats (eg. real letters vs. postcards) to encourage shifts in decision-making. This can be even more effective when those constituents wield power themselves in relatively direct ways that matter to elected officials – party donors, business allies, or voters in key ridings, for example. Within public will campaigns, there are a host of approaches or sub-strategies:

Organizing – eg. ‘concentric circle organizing’, old-fashioned face-to-face ‘shoe-leather’ outreach (canvassing, streeters, house parties, etc); ‘netcentric’ campaigns using on-line and off-line approaches; ‘viral’ on-line approaches, and likely dozens of others; the idea is to target current and potential supporters, build relationships, listen and where values align, help them move them up the ‘leadership ladder’ to greater and greater levels of engagement – ideally, to create a whole new cadre of organizers

‘Gatekeeper’ campaigns – campaigns aimed at targeting a few individuals who have access to broader groups of people, access that the social change actor or organization does not easily have on its own

Celebrity or ‘opinion leader’ endorsement for positioning and profile (‘surprising bedfellow’ strategies could fall under here)

‘Inside champions’ to provide access to internal podiums, provide endorsements & positioning

Government relations: For me, one big learning over the past year has been how few organizations do any government relations at all – when policy change is at the heart of their entire strategy. Government – both at the staff and political level – is where policies are made. A solid government relations (GR) program provides intelligence about what laws and policies have the potential to move through the internal ‘food chain’ of government decision-making. It can inform what stage policies are at, whether the time is right for moving specific initiatives forward (and when such efforts will realistically be futile), and what the specific levers of change are for moving them more quickly and in a stronger direction. GR is about research, listening, and learning. It is about relationship-building that leads to a deeper understanding of how, where and when to shift power. It is as essential to any effective policy effort as opinion research is to any broad public communications effort.

Litigation: This form of advocacy involves using existing policy levers and legal tools (statutory tools and precedents through the courts). Litigation has been used with incredible, tangible impact by groups such as the Sierra Legal Defence Fund and Pivot Legal. During more progressive government administrations, where ‘third party’ civil society groups tend to have more access and influence on policy development, litigation strategies are less needed, and tend to wane. But during relatively regressive, inaccessible administrations, litigation can be a vitally powerful advocacy tool for advancing social change.

Market Campaigns are about going to a different kind of power source: corporations. So much can be written about this approach, and in this globalized economy, usually only organizations with global reach themselves can use them. But the basic model (which groups like ForestEthics use masterfully) looks something like this:

1. identify a corporate target, ideally an iconic or influential member of a broader sector. Research it thoroughly in terms of chain of supply, investors, distribution networks etc
2. ask for change in policy (eg. procurement policies like selling paper products derived from pristine old-growth forests, or marketing policies like targeting children in tobacco marketing campaigns)
3. when the change doesn’t come, organize creative, public communications initiatives, generating plenty of earned media, that position the company negatively and potentially harm market share and/or investment potential, in order to drive the target to the negotiating table
4. negotiate for the change; agree to publicly praise the company for its leadership when the change comes
5. and here’s a twist that applies to some campaigns: as part of the negotiations, ask the newly-converted company champion(s) to meet with government to encourage a broader policy change that levels the playing field for all companies in the industry – thereby leveraging a more lasting, systematic shift in the decision-making landscape

5. Politics: Politics are about going to the heart of the matter – the matter being power. It is the stage where the complicated dance between vision and compromise plays out most starkly. Politics are not about being ‘pure’, or necessarily right – because in a democracy there may be many variations of ‘right’. As my partner says, “do we want to be a club – or a movement?” Initially, it is about battling it out in the arena of votes, at both the nomination and election stage. But when those battles are over, politics is about the opportunity to roll up your sleeves and dive into the messy work of sorting through diverse and sometimes conflicting values and solutions by tapping into collective intelligence and into leadership, all to develop policy. In the elections process, third party of civil society groups can play indirectly in this arena in several ways: building relationships with prospective candidates (one they’re in power it becomes a government relations exercise); organizing and list-building in specific electoral districts to build power through ‘get out the vote’ (GOTV) work on e-day; endorsing specific candidates; volunteering or otherwise building the capacity of specific candidate campaigns; and various forms of voter education.

Final word:
Power lies at the heart of each of these approaches, as I believe it lies at the heart of all social change. Each approach has value. But I believe that the closer each is to addressing power, the harder the work becomes – and the more likely it is to have lasting, systemic impact. In developing strategies for social change, and for building movements that lead to social change, we are continually faced with the cost-benefit analysis of which approach will best serve, or be more fruitful, given our own assets, resources and ability – and willingness – to wield power.

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