Tag Archives: local government

Data is Top of Mind at ICMA 2013 Conference in Boston

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The ICMA Annual Conference was held in Boston this week.  Everywhere I turned someone was talking about data.  Seems the hot trend of data and data analytics is becoming top of mind for municipal leaders. During Monday’s keynote address, the NY Times best-selling author Daniel Pink inspired the audience by helping us realize we are all in sales!  WHAT! How can this be?   Municipal managers aren’t sales people.   However, in his research, Daniel asks people if their job involves, “convincing or persuading people to give up something of value in exchange for something you offer.”  His research indicates that 41% of all people say yes.   At 8:30 on Monday morning the packed room of 3,000 managers were all stunned to realize they were in sales.  As municipal managers, they knew an important element of their job is persuading, convincing and influencing department managers, employees, elected officials, business owners and citizens!    But no one in the room ever thought their job involved selling. So where does data fit into this discussion?  …

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NPR: Communities Debate Whether Sharing Services Saves Money

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While driving in the car the other day I was listening to NPR’s “Morning Edition.”  The topic was the effects of lower revenues on the communities we live in across America.  This 3-minute radio show highlighted communities in Wisconsin, Nebraska, and New Jersey and the various decisions, including consolidations and sharing of services, which have been selected and undertaken to manage within their lower budgets. There are pros and cons about the benefits of shared services… but having good data can help make informed evaluations and decisions.  Any major change in the way services are delivered can require adjustments later, to “get it right” and ensure that the expected outcomes are realized – be it a change to bring about better services, economies of scale, lower crime rates, or more revenues.  Data helps clarify the need for post-decision adjustments as well. Princeton, NJ is using Revelstone Compass to measure key elements of its two-town consolidation, so that outcomes can be tracked and adjustments made based on real data.  Taxpayers expect…

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Are Citizens Satisfied with Municipal Services?

Companies like SeeClickFix and Public Stuff are most well-known as apps that allows citizens to report potholes.  It’s not just that potholes capture the imagination of citizens – it’s that citizens are largely unsatisfied with the streets, sidewalks and infrastructure of their towns and cities. ETC Institute recently conducted a national survey on how satisfied citizens are with the services their towns and cities provide.  The survey shows many citizens are largely satisfied with how their municipalities are performing.  Here’s a quick look at the some of the findings: Citizens are least satisfied with public transportation (47%) and streets/sidewalks/infrastructure (48%) Citizens are most satisfied with trash/yard waste services (77%) and police/fire/EMS (80%) The majority of services received satisfaction rates between 50% – 75% Most services’ satisfaction ratings improved or remained the same from 2011 to 2012; the exception was parks and recreation, which went from 71% satisfaction to 69% satisfaction The good news is that some of a municipality’s most costly services – police, fire, EMS, waste disposal – receive…

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Morristown, NJ – Engaging citizens through performance management

“For years, people at our council meetings have asked what our government does,” said Mayor Timothy P. Dougherty of Morristown, New Jersey. “We realized we needed to do a better job of showing what we are doing and to do that, we needed to establish goals, build metrics and measure our performance so we can communicate the results to our citizens.” Morristown, New Jersey is working hard to transform its government into one that focuses on citizen services and sustainability. As Mayor Dougherty mentioned in his 2013 re-organization address, “The Morristown Office of Sustainability continues to champion ‘Morristown Performs’ – the Administration’s performance management initiative. It manages the relationship with our Dodge Foundation-funded consultants from FDU’s Institute for Sustainable Enterprise and the inter-departmental integration of data collection and new technologies to better measure, assess and improve government operations and budgeting.” One of the goals of Morristown’s performance management initiative is to overcome the pervasive and negative sentiment of how local governments typically operate. The Mayor established goals and built metrics…

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Can you drive your town without a dashboard?

When I hop in my car, I don’t give much thought to it.  I know with a lot of certainty that my car is equipped to take me where I want to go.  Now,  I imagine if my car was stripped of its dashboard, I would  quickly find myself  asking questions such as:  How fast am I driving?  Do I have enough gas?  Is the engine too hot?  And I would surely be lost without my trusted GPS. Just for fun, imagine yourself driving to work with no dashboard.  You get in and quickly realize that you have no way of knowing if there is enough gas in the tank to get you there.  What options do you have?  You might start driving and hope you get there before running out of gas.  You could call the fleet department (aka your spouse) and ask when was last time he/she put gas in the car and how many miles the car has been driven since.  Good luck – they probably won’t…

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What are Holiday Season Fires Costing Your Town?

While Mythbusters found that Christmas tree lights do not cause house fires, the National Fire Protection Association can prove otherwise. The Association reports that U.S. fire departments responded to an annual average of 240 house fires started by Christmas trees between 2005 and 2009 alone. These fires resulted in: • 13 deaths • 27 injuries • $16.7 million in property damage Although Christmas tree fires are not a common occurrence, the numbers prove they still happen and preparing for these fires is something towns need to be doing every year. To start, municipal officials can educate their citizens. Wishing your town a safe and happy holiday season is no longer enough. A simple fact sheet distributed to citizens and/or posted on your town website could be a great way to bring awareness to holiday season fires. For example, did you know that Christmas tree fires don’t just happen around December 25? Actually 17% started in November or February, 50% in December and 33% in January. Also, these fires are not just limited to…

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Ready, Fire, Aim

There is an old story of a man shooting a gun. Over and over, he keeps firing but missing his target each time.  If you happen to notice him firing, you would assume that he was an expert marksman, never stopping and just firing away.  However, if you saw his target, you would see that nothing was hitting the target.  When his friend stops him to ask, “Why don’t you slow down and take aim before firing?” his reply, “No, I’m too busy firing and I don’t have time to aim.” This story is an old cliché, but one that is played out in municipal departments every day.  Workers are busy working, however, there is often no aiming going on and no targets or goals are being established.  If you ask your managers and workers to measure their progress or activity, the answer is always the same, “We are too busy delivering services for that.”  Yup, firing away and missing the target! However, if your workers started measuring their activities,…

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ICMA 2012 – “Stimulate the Progress” of Local Governments

I’m writing this blog entry from my airline seat at 30,000 feet somewhere over the middle of the country, thinking about all the interesting people I met at ICMA 2012.  I’m reflecting at the awesome number of opportunities facing local government leaders today—opportunities to adopt new technologies, enhance communications and improve citizen’s lives. New technologies to enable local governments to transform how things are currently done were evident all around ICMA 2012.  From the omnipresent use of social media and the ability to attend the conference virtually via the Internet, to the exhibit hall flourishing with new civic startup technology companies, change was in the air.  The Code for America’s session on open source software and specifically Jim Collins’ (author of Good to Great) keynote address were inspiring to all. Jim Collins spoke about innovation, presenting the concept of “preserving the core and stimulating progress.”  The idea of preserving the core is something that I think we all do every day in our professional lives.  We try to keep the…

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Engaging with performance leaders at the ICMA’s 98th Annual Conference

Every day we hear about the struggles facing local governments, from the rising costs of delivering service to slashed sources of funding and increased citizen demands. Revelstone understands the pressures facing municipal leaders, and next week we are bringing our knowledge of performance analytics and creating government efficiencies to thousands of municipal officials at the ICMA’s 98th Annual Conference. Revelstone  shares  the ICMA’s vision of building better communities and is dedicated to helping local governments operate more efficiently while improving the services that are delivered to citizens.  As a conference exhibitor, we aim to “use the floor” to empower attendees to become performance leaders despite the tough economy and the ongoing battle to do more with less. However, to get there you have to first understand how you are performing. Often times municipal managers don’t know where to start, but with performance analytics and Revelstone Compass, managers can begin analyzing their services and costs to make strategic, data-driven changes that will improve the performance of their municipalities.  Compass represents the…

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What’s your answer to the local government squeeze?

A recent Pew Charitable Trusts report, “The Local Squeeze: Falling Revenues and Growing Demand for Services Challenge Cities, Counties and School Districts,”  local governments “have been hit with a one-two punch.” They are faced with declining revenue and demands for increased service. It’s easy to agree that municipalities have a massive challenge ahead of them. As Pew rightly states, the “local squeeze will be felt for years to come.” According to Pew: State aid, which funds nearly a third of local government budgets, fell by 2.6 percent, to $12.6 billion in 2010 In 2012, property tax revenues saw the first annual decline since the mid-1990s – and it was the largest in decades Property tax revenues fell in 2011, and are expected to continue falling in 2012 and 2013. To make matters worse, the ways many cities and towns have addressed this are unsustainable: Raising taxes Reducing spending Cutting services Eliminating jobs Eventually, there will be nothing left to cut. And citizens are never happy about having their taxes raised….

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Why I decided to intern at Revelstone this summer – Derek Aurori’s story

My name is Derek Aurori, and I interned as a Marketing Research assistant at Revelstone this summer. As a marketing major in the Smeal College of Business at Penn State, I have learned plenty about how marketing works, but never got to experience any of it first hand.  Therefore, I wanted my summer internship to be a learning experience where my input would truly make a difference. When applying for internships, Revelstone was the only group to make it clear that my time working would really make an impact.  Most other internship descriptions ended with me giving this sort of reaction.  After quickly accepting the position at Revelstone, I spent the first few days building my knowledge of the field by working with the team members and fellow interns. Since then, my work has been an ever-changing mix of research and creative projects to help Revelstone expand.  Each project presented its own unique problems, solutions, and impacts toward the overall growth of the company.  I never would have thought that…

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I believe governments can operate better

Why don’t governments have the newest and coolest software and technology? I’m not sure I can answer that question, but Code for America is on a mission to change governments for the better. Have you heard of Code for America? It’s a small group of smart, talented and dedicated people with a mission to improve the experience of governments by delivering simple-to-use and beautifully designed software that helps governments operate in the 21st century. At Revelstone, we have the privilege of working with the Code for America team in the newly created Accelerator program. I’m writing this post on the plane as I fly home from our first full week in Code for America’s San Francisco offices, and I couldn’t be more energized at the prospect of helping governments become more efficient. When we started Revelstone just a couple of years back, I sat in a room with my co-founders and we envisioned a world where municipal leaders could sit at their desks, easily find their peer cities and learn…

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Targets: The Key in Getting from Measuring to Managing Performance

If you are using a performance management system and you are not setting targets, are you really managing or are you just measuring? Setting targets is an essential part of the management process that allows you to be proactive and take action based on the results of what you measure. To really be proactive, targets need to be set according to changing conditions. When doing this, it is important to remember that you are managing in the real world, not in a sterile, academic setting. There are several questions that you should ask yourself in regards to each measure: What can I expect the measure to be if nothing is different? Normally, a measure from an appropriate prior time period (same month last year, for example) is your best guess at what to expect. Does the recent trending of the measure (maybe the last several months) change my expectations based on last year? Recent trending may indicate changing conditions of which you were not aware. Is the amount of resources…

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The Five Myths of Performance Management and Benchmarking Myth #5 – I don’t know where to begin

Performance management is not a new topic in municipal governments, yet its use is often limited to only the biggest of cities.  Through our research and working with municipalities of all sizes, we have identified The Five Myths of Performance Management that have plagued municipal leaders for decades.  At Revelstone, we are determined to help debunk these myths and demonstrate how you can start managing better with quantifiable metrics, depend less on anecdotal stories and help make data-driven decisions in your jurisdiction quickly, easily and cost effectively. Myth #5— I don’t know where to begin If you have read past blog posts here, you probably know that I spend a great deal of my time speaking with municipal leaders talking about performance management.  “I don’t know where to begin,” is probably the one phrase I hear most often, giving rise to this myth.  What I find interesting is that most municipal managers can extol the benefits of performance management: Communicating goals clearly both to the public and within the organization…

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Government Performance Management and the 21st Century Digital Government

The White House recently issued a Presidential Memo—”Building a 21st Century Digital Government”—directed to the heads of Executive Departments and Agencies.  The memo provides the major federal agencies with a 12-month technology roadmap, including how to deliver digital services and how to make applicable government information available to the public.  But most significantly, the memo included, as an integral portion of the edict, a directive to include measurement. Excerpt from Memo: “The Strategy will enable more efficient and coordinated digital service delivery by requiring agencies to establish specific, measurable goals for delivering better digital services; encouraging agencies to deliver information in new ways that fully utilize the power and potential of mobile and web-based technologies; ensuring the safe and secure delivery and use of digital services to protect information and privacy; requiring agencies to establish central online resources for outside developers and to adopt new standards for making applicable Government information open and machine-readable by default; aggregating agencies’ online resource pages for developers in a centralized catalogue on www.Data.gov; and…

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8 Steps to Establishing a Performance Culture

As performance measurement systems evolved into performance management systems in municipal governments, many early adopters realized something pervasive had happened.  Dialogues were now about results, not activities.  The entire organization became focused on how to improve results instead of just reading what the results were.  Even departments that had only partial control over a result saw their responsibility not only in doing their part, but also in collaborating and coordinating with other departments and with stakeholders outside the municipality to achieve the desired goals.  Setting targets became an important part of the process that led to knowing where you were and giving a direction to where you wanted to be. The evolution from measuring to managing performance can only be attained by establishing a performance culture and this is not always easy. The following 8 steps provide a critical framework for establishing this type of culture: Determine what results you are trying to achieve. Communicate the goals you want to achieve – clearly and often. Make learning your focus. Encourage…

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The Five Myths of Performance Management and Benchmarking Myth #4—It’s too expensive

Performance management is not a new topic in municipal governments, yet its use is often limited to only the biggest of cities.  Through our research and working with municipalities of all sizes, we have identified The Five Myths of Performance Management that have plagued municipal leaders for decades.  At Revelstone, we are determined to help debunk these myths and demonstrate how you can start managing better with quantifiable metrics, depend less on anecdotal stories and help make data-driven decisions in your jurisdiction quickly, easily and cost effectively. Myth #4—It’s too expensive Since performance management has historically been practiced by the largest of cities with many resources, the perception is that they probably spend a lot of money on: Software with big, up front capital expenditures New hardware servers Consultants to configure the software In-depth training Endless amounts of data gathering And in the case of the biggest and richest cities, this might indeed be true.  When you add up all the time and costs that big cities have put into…

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The Five Myths of Performance Management and Benchmarking: Myth #2—I can’t compare to others; I’m unique

Performance management is not a new topic in municipal governments, yet its use is often limited to only the biggest of cities.  Through our research and working with municipalities of all sizes, we have identified The Five Myths of Performance Management that have plagued municipal leaders for decades.  At Revelstone, we are determined to help debunk these myths and demonstrate how you can start managing better with quantifiable metrics, depend less on anecdotal stories and help make data-driven decisions in your jurisdiction quickly, easily and cost effectively. Myth #2—I can’t compare to others; I’m unique. You’ve heard this myth before… possibly in your own town.  “We can’t compare to other towns because we have a _____ [insert one of the following: a shopping mall, a university, a downtown district, a volunteer fire department, etc.] and the other towns near us don’t have that.”  It’s the classic apples-to-oranges comparison dilemma.  While it may be true that your neighboring towns might not have a mall or volunteer fire department like you do,…

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The Five Myths of Performance Management and Benchmarking: Myth #1—My people are too busy.

Performance management is not a new topic in municipal governments, yet its use is often limited to only the biggest of cities.  Through our research and working with municipalities of all sizes, we have identified The Five Myths of Performance Management that have plagued municipal leaders for decades.  At Revelstone, we are determined to help debunk these myths and demonstrate how you can start managing better with quantifiable metrics, depend less on anecdotal stories and help make data-driven decisions in your jurisdiction quickly, easily and cost effectively. Myth #1—My people are too busy. Municipal departments are, in fact, short-staffed and very busy.  But a common problem we see in many municipalities is that staff members sometimes do things that aren’t necessary.  How often have you dug into a problem or task to ultimately ask, “Why are we doing this?” only to hear the common answer, “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Is your staff really too busy to measure performance?  How do you decide what “too busy” really…

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The Five Myths of Performance Management and Benchmarking

Performance management is not a new topic in municipal governments.  Excellent examples of a performance-based management approach are well documented in New York City and Baltimore’s successful CompStat and CitiStat programs.  With governments struggling today to find efficiencies in their service delivery, the need for good data to base decisions on is needed more than ever.  So why haven’t smaller local governments followed suit and adopted their own performance management programs like those that have worked so successfully in larger cities? Our research has shown there are five common myths that have become so ingrained and accepted that the mere notion of a performance management program is almost automatically dismissed as impractical unless you have the budget and staff of a large city like New York City. I’m writing a five-part blog series in an effort to help debunk the five myths of performance management: I don’t have time; my people are too busy I can’t compare to others; I’m unique I don’t have the data to compare to others…

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“It’s easy to do nothing.”

I spend a great deal of my time speaking with leaders of local governments about improving performance of municipal operations.  This week, I was speaking with a business administrator of a small city and he acknowledged that it’s not uncommon for a town to be delivering services that could be improved or made more efficient.  What he said next, surprised me, as if exposing a dirty little secret of managers, “It’s easy to do nothing and just let it be, and that has been the strategy of many towns for the past 15 years.” Today, it’s a completely different story.  With revenue shortages and little ability to raise taxes to cover budget shortfalls, administrators must find new ways to become efficient or risk having to stop delivering a service.   I just learned of one New Jersey town that reduced garbage pickup to once a week.  As you might imagine, the residents are not happy and very concerned about the smells that will likely come, when the weather gets warm this…

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Revelstone does its part in “Creating a Community with a Common Vision”

Creating a Community with a Common Vision was the theme behind this year’s New Jersey League of Municipalities (NJLM) Annual Conference, and as a first-time exhibitor, Revelstone was excited not only to participate but also to offer a solution for local governments that tied directly into this messaging. On November 15th-17th over 10,000 attendees gathered down in Atlantic City for what is considered to be the largest gathering of public officials in New Jersey.  Over this three-day event, the NJLM hosted educational panels, clinics and workshops while commercial, government and association exhibits displayed the latest products and services for municipal government.  The Revelstone team had the opportunity to participate in these sessions, tour the exhibit floor and network with new and familiar faces. As an exhibitor, our goal was to communicate how Revelstone is helping local governments operate more efficiently.  Through our innovative performance management solution, Compass, we are enabling local governments to track their own performance data, benchmark against peers and learn from each other to improve. We believe…

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Are Extreme Cuts Coming to Your Town?

Before you read on, I invite you to first watch this video that recently aired on NBC featuring communities being forced to make extreme cuts.  It’s a “sign of the times” or so they say.  http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032619/vp/44910124#44910124 Proposing government employees bring their own toilet paper to work in an effort to save money?  That’s really extreme.  This is truly a sign of the times—a sign that governments are continuing with the struggle to do more with less, or as Brian Williams put it, “less with less.”  Have you started to consider extreme cuts that once may have seemed unthinkable?  How exactly can governments continue to deliver the same programs with the same quality of service on an extremely reduced budget?  I don’t think there is an easy answer to this question. Another controversial question is how governments are determining where to cut resources.  For the sake of citizens and the programs they depend on, one can only hope that research has gone into these decisions and towns are relying on facts…

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Moneyball your Municipality

Have you seen the new movie Moneyball with Brad Pitt, or read the book of the same title by Michael Lewis?  It strikes me that there is an uncanny similarity from what the Oakland A’s faced in Major League Baseball to what local municipalities are facing in today’s challenging economic times. The central premise of Moneyball is that the collective wisdom of baseball insiders (including players, managers, coaches, scouts and the front office) over the past century is subjective and often flawed.  Common baseball statistics such as “stolen bases,” “runs batted in” and “batting average” have historically been used as the gospel to gauge a player’s performance and are relics of a past way of thinking.  The book/movie argues that the Oakland A’s front office took advantage of more empirical measures of player performance to field a team that could compete successfully against richer teams in Major League Baseball. Rigorous statistical analysis had demonstrated that new measures like “on-base percentage” and “slugging percentage” are better indicators of offensive success, and…

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Big or Little—How do Municipalities Find Success with Performance Management?

The success of Performance Management has been achieved in some of the largest municipalities and some well-managed counties in the United States, but the transfer of this management technology to small and moderate-sized municipalities has been slow, at best.  Revelstone has resolved the technology issue by providing a practical solution that doesn’t demand a large multi-year project or significant IT costs with Compass—a web-based platform that contains a catalog of precisely defined measures.  Municipalities need only to choose a few of these measures to get started, and can add to them as their sophistication and needs grow.  From our experience talking to town managers and elected officials, the remaining stumbling block is the establishment and acceptance of the value proposition for Performance Management itself. While glowing statements of the general success of Performance Management projects, as well as promotion of the success of a particular model or process by consultants offering that solution, do exist, concrete examples that are undeniable are hard to find in published sources.  This is not…

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Should You Measure for Today or Tomorrow?

A common question I hear when talking to township officials about performance management is, “What do I measure?” Deciding on what to measure involves focusing on today’s challenges and tracking areas that are in immediate need, or planning ahead and collecting information that may help you solve future problems. The choice you face is whether to concentrate on measures that address short-term issues to detect and solve today’s challenges or take a longer term approach and track measures that will help detect and solve future problems. For example, if you are having current issues with evaluating the size of your police force, you would probably want to track the following measures: Number of police calls for service Average response time for emergency calls Overtime hours Conversely, if you have increasing costs in your fire department, a common solution is to consider a shared services arrangement. You will be better prepared to make current and future decisions regarding this by tracking these measures: Number of calls responded to in your jurisdiction…

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Welcome to the Revelstone Blog

Revelstone is dedicated to creating communities of local governments that inspire each other to improve the quality of life for their citizens, employees and stakeholders.  We hope that you find this blog inspirational and useful. Our goal is to provide you with information and techniques about how other towns are using performance management and benchmarking to deliver services and cost-efficient solutions to improve your government operations. In the coming weeks and months, you will hear from some of Revelstone’s leaders who are co-authors of this blog. We will bring to you our varied backgrounds from the public service, the private sector and academia. We will share ideas and stories from our many customers and engage in open discussions about efficient ways to deliver municipal services, all from different view-points. You’ll hear about towns who are pioneering new management techniques to reduce costs and improve service delivery efficiencies, as well as those that are implementing innovative solutions. We invite you to join the conversation by checking in with us every week or…

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