Monday, May 31, 2010

Should public servants comment online on the operations of other departments?

A matter I've been mulling over for some time has been whether Australian public servants should comment on the operations of other government departments - at whatever jurisdictional level.

I am aware of several cases where individual public servants have commented on a difficult personal situation they experienced with another agency and received an informal complaint, via their own senior management, from the senior management of the other agency (who had used social media monitoring to track them down). Generally the complaint was that by commenting in a less than positive manner they were calling the integrity and reputation of another agency into question.

This raises major considerations for public servants as they engage online personally or professionally. While it is very clear from the Australian Public Service Code that public servants should uphold the integrity and reputation of the public service, there is less clarity around whether public servants should comment on operational matters that affect them personally.

It also raises questions about the role and rights of public servants - can they possess all the rights of other citizens as well as act responsibly as employees of the government? Are they entitled to raise valid concerns about government operated services based on their and their family and friends' personal experiences?

Here's some examples to clarify the type of situations that I see may emerge:

  • If a public servant is organising a passport for a family member and the process goes badly astray, can they comment online about the issues they experienced with the Department of Immigration?
  • If a public servant finds traffic is slowed to a stand-still due to road works during peak hour, can they complain online about the Roads Authority?
  • Finally, if a public servant is inappropriately treated by counter staff at a government shopfront, can they discuss their poor customer service experience online?
Over time there may be temptation for senior agency officials to attempt to shutdown this type of commenting by public servants, either by discouraging social media engagement or through staff education.

However as more public servants take to social media (and more social media users are employed by government), the frequency of these types of incidents is likely to grow.

I wonder how our systems will need to adapt.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

CEBIT eGovernment Forum liveblog

I'm a little late starting, due to a late plane and sourcing power and wi-fi, but hope to liveblog the eGovernment Forum throughout today.

Here's the eGovernment Forum event program for today.

I am starting a little late - Minister Tanner has already provided his keynote via video, stating that there he will be giving a Gov 2.0 declaration, per the Gov 2.0 Taskforce recommendation in their final report, in the next few weeks.

Glenn Archer of DEEWR is giving a presentation on behalf of the Government CIO, Ann Stewart providing an introduction to Gov 2.0, the outcomes of the Gov 2.0 Taskforce, and the steps taken since.

This includes the Department of Finance and Deregulation's opening up of social media tools for staff, the Department of Immigration's social media policy and AGIMO's blog (which is post-moderated).

He has announced that the government plans to redevelop and relaunch the beta Australia.gov.au open data site into a fully fledged site.

He's also spoken about the Coordinated ICT Procurement plan, which will streamline ICT procurement across the Australian Government, and the ICT Workforce plan and career structure to help attract and retain skilled ICT staff.

And now on to the liveblog....

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Watch for the eGovernment forum and Gov 2.0 innovator awards at CEBIT on Tuesday

On Tuesday CEBIT is hosting the eGovernment Forum, with the involvement of the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) in the Department of Finance and Deregulation.

I am attending the Forum as a guest of AGIMO to receive a Gov 2.0 Innovator Award, alongside Mosman Council and ABC Pool (per the Gov 2.0 Taskforce's Innovators contest).

Keep an eye on Twitter for my impressions of the Forum through the day (using the #gov2au and #egovforum tags).

I also aim to liveblog the Forum, or post my impressions of the day shortly afterwards in this blog.

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Infallability, government and Web 2.0

Many rulers, from the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt to the Czars of Russia, were seen as almost infallible leaders - divinely selected and empowered to lead their people. To question their wisdom, strength or decisions was often an offence that could be punished by imprisonment or death.

Most modern states are more lenient, however governments still place a high value on being seen to be authoritative, knowledgeable and, on occasion, infallible.

So what is the impact of new media on a government's aura of infallibility?

For a long time traditional media has been keeping governments honest. However it has relied on a relative few number of reporters providing information through an even smaller number of distribution channels. Commercial interests, limited access to information and various other restrictions have, on occasion, left many government decisions and policies with little scrutiny.

Now, with Web 2.0, almost every citizen is also a journalist and publisher. This makes it possible for almost the entire population of a modern state to keep its government under constant 24-hour scrutiny and analysis, covering almost every decision and policy.

How have governments responded to this?

Some have taken a censorship and imprisonment route, attempting to limit debate and scrutiny by imprisoning, or worse, the most vocal citizen critics.

However this isn't a route that many democratic states could (or would) choose.

Instead democratically elected governments can choose to embrace public scrutiny and, rather than attempting to maintain an illusion of infallibility, become learning organisations who acknowledge that they can continually improve their performance.

This is a huge mindset change for those in governments used to the limited scrutiny of traditional media. The change can take some time to embrace.

At the moment while some governments and their agencies have embraced scrutiny as an opportunity to improve their service delivery, policy and operations, others are still conflicted. There are still situations where some individuals in various governments attempt to control and close down public discussions or limit internal transparency through self-censorship and restricted internal communications channels.

These conflicted agencies are, in many cases, doing more harm to themselves than good. When it is publicly visible that the Emperor has no clothes, that a particular topic is of community interest or facts about a situation (potentially including videos, financial analysis and/or expert opinions) are freely distributed online, attempts to limit statements to an agency line can backfire.

In other words, attempts to protect an agency or Minister through controlling information can, instead, create greater risks to them. This activity can damage reputations, expose them as out-of-step or, in extreme cases, result in rolling heads.

Government agencies increasingly need to resist the need to control all flows of information and focus on ensuring that accurate information is available wherever people are having a discussion. They need to ensure that the community has access to the facts - both when government is right and when they are wrong.

This limits the damage of false claims and myths - when government has indeed made the most correct decisions. Equally it limits the damage and distress when government has made mistakes. This approach allows government to retain the respect and trust of the community, particularly when errors are quickly detected and corrected.

Possibly the greatest challenge for public servants related to this shift to open disclosure and less massaging of messages is that it is happening right now.

The Australian Government's Freedom of Information reform law was passed on 13 May this year, Victoria has begun adopting Creative Commons licensing in a proactive disclosure approach for public sector data and NSW's government recently appointed an Information Commissioner and the NSW Premier has directed Ministers and Departments to set "an example of unprecedented openness".

This makes it imperative for agencies to recognise that their environment has changed and adjust their internal processes as quickly as possible.

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Saturday, May 22, 2010

App My State a major Victorian Gov 2.0 success

Victoria's App My State competition has now closed to entries, and has already been an enormous success for the Gov 2.0 efforts in that state.

The competition attracted 171 entries, 75 applications and 96 ideas, over 12 weeks.

Judging has now commenced - with the public able to vote for the 'popular choice' award and other awards now being considered by judges, with winners announced on 7 June.

The Premier has personally tweeted his thanks, showing a level of high-level engagement with the competition,

@vicpremier: Well done to all the @appmystate applicants. Top quality entries. Looking forward to giving out the awards. JB

Regardless who wins the competition, the event has already proven to be a highly cost-effective method to gather useful ideas and generate meaningful approaches to using public sector data.

Is this a once-off success? The evidence argues otherwise.

NSW is in the process of holding a similar competition with a similar level of prizes. While the competition didn't include an ideas category (EDIT 24/5/10: the competition did include an ideas category, which received 64 submissions) and occurred during a changeover in Premiers and with significantly less online promotional support, it still attracted 55 app entries over a 14 week period.

App competitions in the UK and US have also generated significant returns for governments - in particular the first Apps for Democracy competition in Washington D.C. estimated that the value of the apps produced was over US$2.2 million, for less than US$100,000 in prize value.

There is even a set of guidelines on how to run an apps competition to support agencies and states produced by Apps for Democracy.

Below I've included a video where Victorian political leadership introduce the App My State competition. Below that is a list of some of the other App competitions that have been run worldwide.



Apps competitions
Involving public sector data - there are many other examples in commercial spaces.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Register now! Gov 2.0 Canberra lunch - 31 May

After some interruptions I've now organised the next Gov 2.0 Canberra lunch, featuring two fantastic speakers, Senator Kate Lundy and Kate Carruthers.

Being held at the Parliament House Members' Guest Dining Room on 31 May, Senator Lundy will be speaking on the Gov 2.0 Expo she's attending in Washington - giving a round-up of the event, what is happening in the US Gov 2.0 scene and providing an international perspective on the Government 2.0 trend.

Also speaking will be Kate Carruthers, one of Australia's foremost online strategists. Kate's talk will cover some of the social media learnings from the corporate sector - what government can learn and build on to create more successful Government 2.0 initiatives.

If you wish to attend, please register at http://egovaugov20lunch0510.eventbrite.com/

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Australian Gov 2.0 showcase launched

If you've not on Twitter, or regularly visiting AGIMO's new Govspace blog, you may not yet be aware of the Australian Gov 2.0 showcase.

The showcase has been established as a place for the Australian Government to publicly share case studies, videos and information about various Government 2.0 initiatives taking place.

The first goal of the showcase is to allow the Australians attending and speaking at the Gov 2.0 Expo in Washington on 25 May to demonstrate what is happening in Australia in the area.

If your department has any public Gov 2.0 initiatives, you should consider listing them in this showcase, to increase awareness of what your Department is doing, to support other Australian Government Agencies in understanding and planning their own initiatives and to help highlight the successes Australia has achieved on the global stage.

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Nudge your public sector colleagues about Government 2.0 - today!

Contrary to some media and public perceptions, most public servants are hard working and dedicated to their jobs.

This makes us busy people - sometimes too busy to keep an eye on what is going on at the peripheries of our professions.

That's why it is important for those of us who understand and follow what is happening in the Government 2.0 scene to occasionally nudge our colleagues. This is so they don't miss out on the opportunity to understand what is going on and figure it into their strategic and tactical planning.

This week - despite being enormously busy - I've found a few minutes to nudge three groups of my colleagues about ground-breaking Australian Gov 2.0 initiatives that will impact on their areas.

This including advising one group about a new research paper that used Australian blogs and forums in its literary review, concluding that these forms of citizen media offered enormous potential to build a more sophisticated and nuanced understanding of community issues than could be derived from quantitative research alone. That's important for good policy.

It involved bringing to the attention of another group the release of the Australian Government budget under Creative Commons licensing, and of the Government's other statements about copyright and FOI. These policies will influence how we release public information into the future. That's important for good organisational strategic planning.

Finally it involved flagging a set of blogs and social media discussions which demonstrated how the public was using new media to talk about government services. This led to some healthy follow-up discussion on whether potentially defamatory and/or negative comments by individuals online should be given 'oxygen' by government or media. Regardless of the substance of posts it highlighted that people were very actively using online media to publicly share their thoughts and opinions about Government in ways that could influence others' views, rightly or wrongly. That's an important tool for Government communicators, policy and service delivery staff to monitor customer sentiment and address misconceptions or service issues.

Which of your colleagues have you nudged about Government 2.0 this week?

Why not nudge some of them today!

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Australian Government releases historic budget - under a Creative Commons copyright license

Media commentators have called the Australian Government's budget "austere", "responsible" and "boring but good".

I call it historic.

Why so?

Look at the copyright information in Budget Paper 1: BUDGET STRATEGY AND OUTLOOK. Budget Papers 2, 3 and 4 have been released on a similar basis.

What is different?

For the first time in history the Australian Government has released major parts of the Federal Budget under a Creative Commons (CC BY) copyright license.

This means that the public has the right, without first asking permission via the Attorney-General's office, to copy, mash-up, reuse and publicly republish data from appropriately licensed parts of the budget. They are legally entitled to use this material, provided they attribute the source, to create new and innovative works and insights.

This differs from previous Australian Government budgets where the contents were locked up tight under Commonwealth Copyright. While substantial rights were granted for the reuse of material in news reporting and private study, there was no right to otherwise mash-up or republish material publicly without asking permission.

Is this only historic from the perspective of past national Australian Governments?

I don't think so.

To my knowledge this is the first budget released by any government in Australian at any level under a license permitting reuse in this fashion - federal, state or local.

That's a lot of governments over more than 200 years.

Is this only historic from an Australian perspective?

Internationally this may be even more remarkable.

While copyright provisions vary around the world, Australia well be the first nation in the world to publish a national government budget under Creative Commons licensing.


That make the 2010-2011 Australian Government budget a truly historic budget.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Another step for Australian Gov 2.0 - PM endorses public service reforms

According to the ABC, the Prime Minister has endorsed all 28 recommendations in the APS review report, Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for Reform of Australian Government Administration.

This report includes recommendations for the use of Gov 2.0 in citizen engagement and open government, turning citizens into active participants in the process of government, rather than passive recipients of government decisions.

Reform 2: Creating more open government, discusses a vision of a future APS that,

captures ideas and expertise through the transformative effect of technology by:
  • Citizens directly communicating their views and expertise to government through multiple channels, including Web 2.0 approaches (for example, online policy forums and blogs);
  • Greater disclosure of public sector data and mechanisms to access the data so that citizens can use the data to create helpful information for all, in line with privacy and secrecy principles; and
  • Citizens become active participants involved in government, rather than being passive recipients of services and policies.
This is another plank in the Australian Government's Gov 2.0 push, following the recent release of its response to the Gov 2.0 Taskforce's final report.

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Friday, May 07, 2010

Emergency management with Gov 2.0

The internet has proven itself time and time again to be one of the fastest platforms of disseminating information during emergencies.

The latest example has been in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

One of the largest spills off the US coast in history (though far from being the largest in the world), the spill is now threatening the marine life and economic survival of sea-based industries in four US states.

To inform people about the unfolding emergency and share news as it happens, a group of companies involved with the spill and US government agencies has been operating a website and social media presence.

According to the article Oil Spill Social Media in Read Write Web, the group includes British Petroleum, who own the oil; Transocean, who own the rig; the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The social media presence includes a Facebook page for conversations, Twitter for announcements, Flickr for images and YouTube for videos - all linked off the main site, Deep Water Horizon Response.

This type of presence can be put together very quickly when an emergency occurs. There is no cost to any of the social media tools, and they can be in place within minutes.

The approach works very well at informing the public in a more reliable and factual way than, sometimes, traditional media allows.

Provided organisations are attuned and prepared to provide information rapidly, without onerous approval processes, second guessing or political concerns, social media can be a very powerful emergency management tool in the public sector's arsenal.

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Still a long way to go to reach a Government 2.0 world

With the release of the Australian Government's response to the Gov 2.0 Taskforce Final Report and the increasing push of governments around the world to encourage, and even mandate, the use of Government 2.0 approaches by public sectors and politicians, it would be easy to begin thinking that we're off and running towards a Gov 2.0 world.

However a few recent incidents I've become aware of, and been involved with, indicate that there is still a long way to go before public servants are broadly aware of Gov 2.0, let alone skilled in its use.

One example was when a very highly skilled and professional colleague elsewhere in the public service called me up and asked whether they could now begin using 'that Gov 2.0 tool' that everyone was talking about. They had heard that the government had just introduced a Gov 2.0 tool that would make it easier to engage online with their stakeholders. After some questioning, I realised they were asking about GovDex - which has been around for quite some time.

Another example was when someone from outside the public sector railed to me at a social event against the rising tide of government secrecy, complaining that government was hiding more and more information behind impenetrable walls. When I commented about data.australia.gov.au and some of the open data and online consultation underway, they at first didn't believe I was telling the truth, then conceded that while these things might be happening, said approximately that "the government doesn't care what the public thinks anyway, it's all a snowjob to keep us from complaining too much."

These examples are no surprise to me.

In the first instance I am aware of many public servants busy doing their jobs exceptionally well, but simply not having the time, nor always the interest, to learn about every new innovation or initiative under the sun. They don't frequent the right conferences, social events, mailing lists or online forums to get exposed to Gov 2.0. Even if they've heard about it, they don't often know enough to understand the risks or meaningfully consider the ways it may be applied to make their jobs easier or improve their effectiveness and efficiency.

The second instance is a classic example of how people tend to form strong views then cling to them for quite a while rather than going back and test them regularly. If the search tool on your intranet performs poorly and you upgrade it to make it effective, in my experience it can take 6-12 months and quite a bit of communication and nudging before people stop talking about their bad search experiences and start trying the new search engine. People are simply too busy to repeat their actions or rethink their views on a highly regular basis.

So what can be done to increase the speed towards a Gov 2.0 world?

The key, for me, is threefold:

  • Leadership through example - Government 2.0 practitioners need to get out there and recommend, champion and drive the initiatives that teach others how these techniques and technologies can deliver new benefits.
     
  • Formal and informal education - We need to make courses available more broadly for public servants to gain the expertise they need to understand how new media and public engagement using Gov 2.0 techniques can benefit them, giving them the tools to assess risks, consider different approaches, decide on an optimum solution and to deliver.
  • Create relevant community experiences - Finally we need government departments to look for opportunities to deliver Gov 2.0 initiatives that people will want to use. This doesn't just mean they look pretty, are accessible and have a wow! factor. It means that they deliver real benefits to the community, address community needs and wants (not all of community - one audience at a time). If we focus on releasing data in raw form with no easy-to-use analysis tools, or creating public engagement tools and then not promoting them so people are aware they exist (due to our strict advertising guidelines) it will take much longer for the community to notice something positive is going on.
If as Gov 2.0 professionals we strive to support these three areas we will be helping the community make sense and engage with government and assisting government to fulfil its goals.

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

AGIMO releases Govspace blog and blogging platform

On Monday, coinciding with the release of the Government's Gov 2.0 Taskforce report response, AGIMO launched its new blog and blogging platform at AGIMO.Govspace.gov.au.

More than simply a Departmental blog, Govspace, as discussed on Twitter by John Sheridan, is a blogging - and eventually a wiki - platform available for other Departments to use,

@purserj We want it to be able to host either blogs or wikis and be easily recognisable - like data.gov.au #gov2au
I see this as a similar service to GovDex, which is used broadly throughout the public sector for engagement and collaboration purposes.

The Govspace platform is powered by Wordpress, which I believe to be one of the most powerful, widely used and well supported blogging platforms available on the market. There are tens of thousands of 'skins' to change the design (plus you can customise your own), plus there are thousands of plug-ins adding different kinds of functionality to the Wordpress service (you'd have to confirm with AGIMO which are supported).

So if you are looking to start a blog for your agency and your internal systems don't entirely (or on a timely basis) support what is needed, Govspace is now a viable option.

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A big step forward for Gov 2.0 in Australia - Government response to Gov 2.0 Taskforce report

If you've been watching Twitter (specifically the hashtag #gov2au), you might have seen that yesterday the Government released its response to the Gov 2.0 Taskforce, supporting 12 of the 13 recommendations (and deferring the 13th, information philanthropy, pending the outcomes of several related reviews).

The response was announced in AGIMO's new blog platform, Govspace, released in time with the report. A blog post by Minister Tanner stated that,

...today is the completion of one phase, it is also very much the beginning of a new one. The task now is to implement these changes, beginning with assisting agencies to make the most of the opportunities offered by Web 2.0.
The response provides broad support for Gov 2.0 in the Federal Government, authorising the Department of Finance and Deregulation to lead activities across government under a multi-departmental steering committee including Prime Minister and Cabinet, the proposed Office of the Information Commissioner, the Australian Public Service Commission, National Archives of Australia, Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, the Department of Human Services, the Australian Taxation Office and the Attorney-General’s Department.

This group provides a viewpoints across online engagement, open data and governance which should provide a health mix of input into some of the detailed questions that will need to be addressed.

One of the recommendations of the Taskforce was that,
4.3 The default position in agencies should be that employees are encouraged and enabled to engage online. Agencies should support employee enablement by providing access to tools and addressing internal technical and policy barriers.
The government agreed with this by stating,
It is incumbent on the senior APS leadership to ensure that top-down change is enabled in agencies, and that APS employees are genuinely encouraged and empowered to engage online within their agency-specific context.

This is a major step forward in defining the scope in which public servants can engage online on behalf of their agency, and also provides some impetus to upgrade technologies (such as web browsers) and unblock sites where public discussions relevant to agencies are taking place.

As an aside, the Government's response has been released under a Creative Commons copyright license - another example of the government 'eating its own dogfood' in terms of shifting from a proscriptive copyright approach to publications towards a descriptive approach, which allows and supports appropriate use of materials - potentially saving a great deal of time for those tasked with approving use of government materials and freeing a great deal of intellectual property value so that it can be more widely and rapidly disseminated (I hope we'll see actual legislation, acts of parliament, released in the same manner).


The response is, by necessity, not fully detailed as to every contingency - we'll see more of this detail emerge over time. However there is a key area I would like to see addressed quite rapidly, change management.

As I commented this morning on Kate Lundy's blog post, Australia commits to Gov 2.0, (correcting the iPhone use related spelling and grammatical errors), there are still many regulations and governance practices that must be reviewed, reinterpreted or adjusted to allow the process-driven public service to effectively approach Gov 2.0 in a timely (rapid) and cost-effective manner. To make engagement successful, there is the need to streamline approvals for things such as public responses and moderation of public comments (where moderation is used at all) in order to allow conversations to begin and communities to form.

For many public servants – and politicians – the concept of ‘letting go’ and allowing authentic online engagement to occur is a new and scary concept, unlike their previous experience or the directives they have received in the past. I hope we will see substantial change management support and training to help these groups normalize Gov 2.0 within their worldviews.

Otherwise it will remain a long and rocky road towards the widespread embedded use of Gov 2.0 within government agencies. Change had to occur in the heart as well as the head to be lasting.

I believe that we are on the right path and now, as Minister Tanner suggests, the challenge is to walk it confidently - hand in hand with our community.

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Monday, May 03, 2010

The many styles of blogging - selecting the right approach for your goals and audience

A blog is a blog is a blog in the same way that a TV show is a TV show is a TV show.

That is to say, there are many kinds of blogs in the same way there are many different kinds of TV shows, depending on their goals, audience, subject matter and format.

So when a government department, commercial organisations or individual tells me they are starting a blog often my first question is generally - what type of blog?

Around four years ago Rohit Bhargava defined 25 different types of blog and when to use them (see his presentation embedded below).

Wikipedia also discusses the many different types of blogs, differentiating them by genre, content, authorship, goal and approach.

In both cases there is sage advice for anyone considering setting up a blog to consider, preferably before you establish the blog.

Have you thought about the goals for the blog - to communicate, educate, evangelise, attract or sell (amongst other potential goals); have you consider who you see as your audience and their particular needs and approaches - are they experts or novices, do they prefer short snippets or in-depth analysis; have you considered your available resources - can you blog daily, weekly or sporadically, what technologies you are using and their benefits or limitations.

Finally have you considered your subject matter and the degree of interactivity you seek to include. Can - and will - people respond to your blog by commenting. Will they discuss and share your posts on Twitter or Facebook?

Whether you're proposing a blog as a communications or engagement tactic for your organisation, you're being told to establish a departmental blog or you're considering blogging personally or on topics of professional interest, it is well worth considering the appropriate style and approach to improve your changes of success.

And remember, you can blend a few styles together, create your own and evolve your blog over time in response to how your audience is engaging. Don't be limited by lists!

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