Shared measurement: Greater than the sum of its parts
How shared measurement approaches are shaping services and improving impact
Sarah Handley, Farooq Sabri and Anne Kazimirski
Defining shared measurement
Shared measurement involves charities and social enterprises that work on similar issues – and towards similar goals – reaching a common understanding of what to measure in terms of the outcomes and impact of their work, and developing the systems to do so. It can refer to any approach or tool used by more than one organisation to measure impact, and also to the process of shared measurement – which includes establishing shared outcomes, engagement and collaboration, and the pooling and comparing of data and results. The diagram below shows the different stages of development of shared measurement approaches.
Shared measurement can happen across a small number of organisations, within membership organisations, and within and across sectors. There are many benefits to shared measurement, including efficiency and consistency. It helps solve some of the challenges of impact measurement, making it easier for organisations to learn from each other and save them the costs of developing their own tools. It can ultimately help improve the lives of beneficiaries, by helping organisations understand what works. Pooling data through a shared measurement approach can build a larger evidence base more quickly.
About this report
Inspiring Impact’s 2013 paper Blueprint for shared measurement explored different shared measurement approaches and, drawing on some real examples, identified important success factors. Three years on, we have re-visited some of the approaches featured, as well as exploring new examples. Here we focus on the later stage of the shared measurement process – how shared measurement data is driving change and improvement, and what specific benefits this brings. We hope this inspires organisations to pursue shared measurement by talking to others and working together. Primarily, we want to show that shared data can be powerful at helping to achieve social missions at a sector or sub-sector level. Only by working together can we truly affect social change, and shared measurement is showing itself to be a route to achieving this. This is not a comprehensive review of shared measurement approaches. Rather, we have drawn together national and international examples of good practice and focused on where data has been used to influence services, stakeholders, and strategy. We have purposely focused on some of the more developed shared measurement approaches that are using common tools and methods, and are sharing and comparing results, in order to encourage ambitious thinking in this area. There are some promising developments happening elsewhere, including Women’s Aid Federation of England’s recently launched integrated outcome measurement system On Track, and the Childhood Bereavement Network who will shortly be releasing results of their shared measurement pilot.Some of the benefits we have identified are not exclusive to shared measurement, but apply to impact measurement in general. However, a strong theme from our interviewees was that it is possible to achieve more by working together: users of shared measurement systems often could not have set up a similar approach on their own, because of skill or resource issues. Developers of the approach are able to access and use intelligence gleaned from large data sets for the benefit of whole sectors. Shared measurement is greater than the sum of its parts.
Benefits of shared measurement
While our previous review of shared measurement highlighted a number of broad benefits, for this report we sought out the practical, tangible examples, with a particular focus on the use of the data generated. Our research showed that data from shared measurement is having an impact at a number of levels: for the user of the shared measurement system (for example, a local charity), the organisation who developed or hosts the system (for example, a national charity, consultancy or umbrella body), and for whole sectors or sub-sectors.We found that data from shared measurement has been used in a variety of ways including operationally – to improve services – and strategically – to influence policy, fundraising, and commissioning practice. There were also a number of wider benefits of the shared measurement approach itself. We have summarised our findings in the diagram below:This report will go through each of these benefits in turn, highlighting the examples and learning from the featured approaches.
Methodology and featured approaches
Our methodology for this report was desk research and semi-structured interviews. The shared measurement approaches we focus on in this report are described below.
Age UK Wakefield District: LEAF-7
LEAF-7 is a tool that measures changes in quality of life over time. It has been developed by Age UK Wakefield District, which is an independent charity working with and for older people as a local partner of Age UK. The existing measure is the third version of the tool following alterations made to improve its robustness and to make it amenable for older people to use. The tool has been adopted by Age UK branches across the Yorkshire and Humber region for several projects funded by the Department of Health. Since January 2015, the local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has made using LEAF-7 a requirement for all voluntary organisations that come through the CCG referral gateway.
Citizens Advice supports a network of 338 independent local charities – each known as a bureau – in England and Wales. Citizens Advice provide free, independent, confidential and impartial advice to the public on their rights and responsibilities. All of the bureaux use the same CRM case management system, which also records outcomes. There is almost universal take up of the system, and guidance sits behind it to ensure everyone understands how to use it. The bureaux can access all of their own data, and there are built-in reports to help them to do so, as well as the option of creating customised reports. Citizens Advice has central access to all of the data, meaning it has an overview of what is happening nationally.
Home-Start UK and Home-Start Mid-Suffolk: MESH
Home-Start UK is a national charity that supports parents to build better lives for their children. Local Home-Start schemes (including Mid-Suffolk) use MESH (Monitoring and Evaluation System in Home-Start) to monitor and evaluate their outcomes around parenting skills, parental well-being, child well-being and household management. The local Home-Start schemes have significant reach – data on 35,000 families and 70,000 children will be collected this year through MESH, giving Home-Start a large and rich dataset. Data is collected from standardised referral forms, and from the information collected by Home-Start staff during initial, review, and end sessions with the families they support. In addition, weekly volunteer diary data is collated giving a detailed picture of the customised support offered to each family. Local Home-Starts input their data into a database which allows them to run standardised reports or export raw data, and allows Home-Start UK to access the data at a national level.
Palliative Care Outcomes Collaboration
The Palliative Care Outcomes Collaboration (PCOC) is a national programme based in Australia that uses standardised clinical assessment tools to measure and benchmark patient outcomes in palliative care. It is hosted by the University of Wollongong, and over 100 community services, non-government organisations, general hospitals and private hospitals that provide palliative care participate on a voluntary basis. Services submit data to PCOC and in return get a report of their analysed data, also set against benchmarks from the national dataset. The PCOC team also visits users every 6 months and run annual benchmarking workshops, where services network with each other, discuss benchmarking data and share ideas for quality improvement. PCOC is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health.
Personal Social Services Research Unit (PSSRU): ASCOT
ASCOT (Adult Social Care Outcomes Toolkit) is designed to capture information about an individual’s social care-related quality of life (SCRQoL). The aim is for the measure to be applicable across as wide a range of user groups and care and support settings as possible. There is also an associated measure of SCRQoL for family/unpaid carers (the ASCOT-Carer). Both were developed by the PSSRU at the University of Kent which carries out policy analysis, research and consultancy in the UK and abroad. ASCOT was developed out of PSSRU’s previous work for HM Treasury to measure outcomes in care homes, day care centres, and advice and advocacy services. The tool has 1,410 registered users in the UK and internationally who aim to transform the future of people with a learning disability, acquired brain injury, or autistic spectrum condition.
SafeLives, Empowerment, and Safe: Insights
SafeLives (previously known as Coordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse or CAADA) is a national charity dedicated to ending domestic abuse. It trains and supports domestic violence professionals and organisations. It runs the largest national database of domestic abuse cases in the UK, called Insights. Insights has records of over 40,000 unique cases of adults experiencing domestic abuse and a further 2,500 unique cases of children in domestic abuse households. The database measures outcomes that indicate the safety of the victim before and after intervention. Currently, there are 42 organisations using Insights, ranging from small, local voluntary organisations including Empowerment and Safe (Stop Abuse for Everyone) to large national charities. The data is automatically sent to SafeLives, who analyse it and send users a quarterly report alongside a benchmark, which is a rolling average of all users’ data. The SafeLives team visit every user at least annually to discuss what the data is saying and how it can help to improve practice. Insights allows commissioners, services, and national policy makers to use the same evidence to inform their work.
St Basils, St Mungo’s, and Family Action: Outcomes Star
The Outcomes Star is a set of tools developed by Triangle that both measure and support progress for service users towards self-reliance or other goals. There are 30 different Stars adapted for use with different service user groups in areas such as homelessness, mental health, and young people. Over 500 organisations have licenses to input data into an online platform which allows for comparison within and between projects and organisations. This platform gives instant access to benchmarking data – which is anonymous and comes from data from other similar services and client groups in other organisations. The Stars are widely used in the UK and are also used in Australia, New Zealand the USA, Canada, and nine European countries. For the purposes of this review we drew on case studies of St Mungo’s and St Basils who use the Homelessness Star, and Family Action who use the Family Star.
How shared measurement data is being used
Improving services and driving strategy
Data from shared measurement approaches can help organisations understand what works, and therefore how to improve and tailor services. Data on the demographics and circumstances of service users, as well as on outcomes and impact of these services, helps organisations better understand their beneficiaries, and so enables services and strategy to be adapted to better meet their needs.
SafeLives based its organisational strategy on data from its Insights system. It showed that victims of domestic abuse will see an average of five professionals before they get the help they need. As a result, the charity’s new ambition is to ‘halve the time it takes families to get help’, and it is working with its partners and networks to do this. Stop Abuse For Everyone (Safe) used data from Insights to drill down into the circumstances of its user group. It found that 61% of its clients had children in their households who were at significant risk of harm. As a result, Safe adapted its services to ensure that all service users were offered support from its family service, which works directly with children and the whole family. Having access to data meant that Safe was quick to recognise the issue and adapt its offer. The charity says that without looking at the data, it would have taken longer to realise the need to work with the whole family.
‘Without the initial spur of looking at the analysis of our data provided by the Insights team at SafeLives, we might have been slower to recognise the need to work with the whole family to recover from the trauma of abuse.’
Fleur Buechler, Stop Abuse for Everyone (Safe)
Empowerment has used Insights data to find out how well it is reaching particular groups. The data showed that only 2-3% of the charity’s services users are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, compared with 10% of the local population. Empowerment is now networking in the local community to work out why this might be and how it can address this.Home-Start has used its MESH system to understand the needs of particularly vulnerable families on both a local and national scale. The data has shown that families experiencing domestic abuse have higher needs in the areas of mental health, isolation and self-esteem. Knowing this means local schemes can adapt their services, helping them diversify to work better with specific groups. St Basils support young people at risk of homelessness. The charity used data from the Outcomes Star to understand the areas in which it needed to improve. The results showed that outcomes related to offending were not being achieved, so it organised training for its staff to develop their skills in this area, ultimately having a positive impact on service users. Similarly, information from PCOC is used by individual palliative care services to identify areas where the assessment and care of patients can be improved.St Mungo’s data showed that staying long-term at its hostels could be problematic for its clients. Client outcomes peaked when they had been living at the hostel for 6-12 months, with longer stays associated with a decline in progress. St Mungo’s now wants to work with Local Authorities to establish better access to longer term accommodation options.
Influencing stakeholder policy
It’s often important for charities to influence stakeholders such as government and funders. This is because their policies and strategies can have significant impacts for beneficiaries as they affect what services are commissioned, changed or cut. Data can be a useful tool for this, and shared measurement data is particularly valuable as it’s often more balanced and robust.
SafeLives used data from Insights to advise the Department for Communities and Local Government on their Violence against Women and Girls Strategy. Drawing on evidence means the strategy is more likely to be aligned with service user needs. The Civil Service team told SafeLives that the quality of its data and analysis was a compelling factor in the Department for Communities and Local Government securing new funding from the Treasury specifically to combat abuse. SafeLives also shares data every eight weeks with the Home Office to help ensure policy is informed by evidence.Home-Start UK’s first policy manifesto included a focus on maternal mental health, which was influenced by what their rich data set told them about the needs of vulnerable families. The near universal take-up of the MESH system gives them a large national dataset and means that stakeholders pay attention to them.Citizens Advice’s national data set means it also has a strong voice in the sector. The evidence it has enables it to influence the welfare reform debate by identifying the issues facing people and making the case for improvement. It also proactively collected information that helped to evidence the level of support that people would need in order to manage their Universal Credit payments. When the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) benefit was introduced, Citizens Advice drew on its data to identify that people were struggling with navigating the new system and experiencing long delays. It used this knowledge to make recommendations for improvement.Empowerment feeds its local data into the Insights national dataset, and by doing so, it helps SafeLives to carry out its role in influencing and lobbying at a national level. Participating organisations like Empowerment gain from such a collaborative approach: when SafeLives uses the combined data to influence legislative change – for example around the domestic violence protection order – Empowerment’s service users benefit. Empowerment describes this as the all-round benefit of being part of a shared measurement system.
‘We feed our local data into SafeLives’ national dataset. This allows SafeLives to do their job of influencing policy and decision makers, which ultimately benefits our local service users.’
Dee Conlon, Empowerment
Engaging with commissioners
Working with and influencing commissioners can be tricky, but it is another area where evidence can be key. Commissioning often includes an assessment of the needs of people in a particular area, which shared measurement data can support.
Empowerment, alongside SafeLives, reviews its data at an annual meeting, which is also attended by commissioners, and key Children and Social Care directors. Engaging commissioners in the data like this generates conversation about what works, why, and what could be improved. Empowerment say that SafeLives’ use of the national data set is a powerful vehicle for influencing national commissioning, as it gives a strong and consistent message about what works and what does not. Evidence from the Insights system shows that victims of domestic abuse who had been referred from the health sector are from particularly vulnerable, hard-to-reach groups such as those who are pregnant, or have mental health or substance abuse difficulties. SafeLives has been able to make a strong recommendation that domestic violence advisors are located in health settings such as A&E and maternity units, to help ensure victims get the support they need. PSSRU’s ASCOT tool has been helpful for supporting commissioning decisions. Recently, data was used to support the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales to review the quality of life and care of older people living in care homes. The data helped demonstrate how services delivered in many care homes often failed to meet the needs of individuals. As a result, the commissioner was able to outline actions to support an improvement in care outcomes for older people. Cumbria County Council is using ASCOT data to support commissioning decisions in the future. The ASCOT carers’ measure will be used to evaluate whether services are making a difference to the outcomes and quality of life of family/unpaid carers in one local authority in England from 2016 onwards. Sharing successful evidence-based models is a way of influencing the ‘what works’ debate. Home-Start UK’s evidence base has enabled it to show the benefits of its model of volunteer-based family support. It has used data from MESH to call for family support commissioners to ‘more fully utilise volunteers in future plans’. On a local level, Home-Start schemes feel confident engaging with commissioners because they have the data and evidence to corroborate their requests and recommendations.
Comparisons and benchmarking
Shared measurement approaches collect common data from a number of different organisations. Since this makes it possible to compare outcomes across intervention types, time periods, and organisations, shared measurement therefore facilitates the benchmarking of outcomes.
PCOC provides individual palliative care services with benchmarking scores by comparing its local data against national data. These benchmarks, developed with the palliative care sector, have been well received and are used as the basis for demonstrating improvements in patient outcomes. To facilitate sector-wide learning, the PCOC holds annual workshops where outcome measures are presented. This provides a unique opportunity for participating palliative care services to engage and network with each other about their benchmark results. Many services leave the workshops with a motivation to improve consistency of data collection, plans for better policies around symptom management, and ideas from other services about strategies to improve patient outcomes. Age UK Wakefield’s LEAF-7 tool incorporates the ONS Life Satisfaction question which is asked annually in the UK Household Longitudinal Study. This allows organisations using the tool to reference their responses on Life Satisfaction to UK-wide results.Family Action used data from the Outcomes Star to identify differences in the performances of two of its programmes. It showed that whilst outcomes for service users of one programme were improving as anticipated, the outcomes for the second programme were not progressing as well. On closer inspection, the data showed relatively high pre-intervention scores and negligible progress over time. Family Action realised that families using this programme were reluctant to acknowledge the issues they were facing, and that key workers needed some additional skills to help them to better engage parents in difficult but necessary conversations. As well as implementing additional training, Family Action addressed this by organising workshops to enable workers across the two programmes to share learning. ASCOT is included in an overarching outcomes indicator in the Adult Social Care Outcomes Framework (ASCOF). The ASCOF is used locally and nationally to ‘set priorities for care and support, measure progress, and strengthen transparency and accountability’. Each year, local authorities in England collect this data by sending out the Adult Social Care Survey to a sample of social care service users in their authority. This data is then collated by the Health and Social Care Information Centre and can be used nationally for benchmarking, and locally to inform strategic planning and outcomes based commissioning models.
Supporting funding applications
In times of limited resources, providing proof of need and evidence of impact is critical if charities are to access the funding they need. Shared data can be used to help unlock funding.
MESH data has helped Home-Start Mid-Suffolk to secure funding in two ways. Firstly, the charity now has the evidence to explain why the money is needed and what makes them best placed to deliver. Secondly, funders are impressed that the organisation is using a shared measurement system that is robust, coordinated, and embedded in their theory of change. Empowerment secured five years’ additional funding for its children’s services. Its application was supported with data from Insights. Empowerment say this was crucial because it meant they had evidence showing the real difference their work was making to children and families, which convinced the funder to support them. The longer-term nature of this funding enabled Empowerment to roll out its services with greater stability and strategy.
How shared measurement approaches help
It is not just the product of shared measurement – the data it produces – that brings benefits; it is also the process of implementing shared measurement approaches that brings about improvements. At the sector level, these benefits are a result of engagement and collaboration between the organisations that are involved in supporting a shared approach. At the individual organisation level, the process of collecting shared outcomes in a systematic way can raise staff professionalism, engagement, and general quality of impact practice.
Economies of scale
Sharing approaches to measurement can mean that skills and resources are pooled across networks, which can be a more attractive and realistic option than pursuing measurement independently. This may be particularly true for smaller organisations that lack the resources to be able to develop an independent outcomes measurement framework of their own.
This ‘economy of scale’ benefit of shared measurement is evidenced by Empowerment, who said that it could not have replicated the offer of the Insights system in-house because of the prohibitive cost and staff time that this would have involved. The SafeLives system has therefore offered Empowerment a substantial saving, which they have used to reallocate staff time to other areas. Similarly, Home-Start Mid-Suffolk feels that MESH is superior to a system that they could have developed on their own.
The large networks that develop around shared measurement systems are a key benefit of the approach. These networks can build relationships across the sector, and create a unifying voice that is supported by unique insights gleaned from the network’s shared measurement data.
‘Using common tools has helped the palliative care sector to adopt a common language.’
Karen Quinsey, PCOC
The PCOC team, for example, has built up an extensive network of contacts across the palliative care sector. These networks, both formal and informal, have given participating palliative care services access to the national palliative care picture, and a greater prominence in the sector more broadly. In Wakefield, the LEAF-7 tool is used by both the local Age UK and also a local carers’ charity commissioned by the CCG. This means there is a unified approach to assessing need and measuring impact across what were two distinct but complementary services in the voluntary sector. The result is a more holistic approach to identifying and supporting vulnerable people’s needs.Shared measurement approaches can facilitate partnership working and collaboration. Home-Start Mid Suffolk delivers a contract in a consortium with two other local Home-Start schemes. Having a shared measurement system in place has made it much easier to agree on outcomes and set targets, and has made the process of reporting to the commissioner more efficient.
‘The shared system has helped to embed our theory of change.’
Elizabeth Young, Home-Start UK
SafeLives visits Insights users at least annually, in order to facilitate discussions on what the data is saying, what trends there are, and how they can learn from it to improve services. SafeLives adds value by bringing along its knowledge and insights from other domestic violence services that are also using the shared system. This in turn helps users to reflect on their services and where they can improve. Such an approach allows SafeLives to build relationships with local domestic abuse organisations, and really understand their challenges and triumphs.
Improving impact practice
Shared measurement approaches often provide many organisations with their first access to robust outcomes data and therefore their first step towards impact measurement.
Citizens Advice found that the analysis provided by shared measurement prompts the bureaux to dig deeper; to collect supplementary data and follow-up research in order to support their evaluation needs. In this way, shared measurement can be a tool to improve impact practice across organisations more generally.Shared measurement can help to improve impact practice among staff. Staff at participating LEAF-7 organisations say that the process of collecting data in a systematic and disciplined way has professionalised frontline staff; they have seen how their roles can contribute to a broader effort across the organisation to measure outcomes and learn from this data. Shared measurement tools can also reinforce an organisation’s existing understanding of its impact. Home-Start UK, for example, has found that widespread use of the MESH system has helped embed its theory of change within its local schemes. This ensures there is a consistent understanding of Home-Start’s objectives across all centres and among all staff and volunteers.
Sharing approaches to measurement does not come without its challenges. It requires time, resources, collaboration, and probably a dose of compromise. Furthermore, setting up an approach is only the first step: making use of the data that comes out of shared measurement is the end goal.In this paper we have purposely drawn on good practice, however many approaches are yet to rise to this challenge fully. Too often the main use of data seems to be to populate reports, rather than to truly drive services, determine policy, and steer strategy. The reasons for this are likely to include a lack of data analysis skills, a lack of impact leadership, and a lack of prioritisation. Perhaps the sector needs to remind itself why measurement is important: to learn, rather than only to report to funders. Inspiring Impact would like to see better use of data across measurement approaches; shared ones in particular, given the potential for collective data to influence change at a wider level. We would also like to see funders and commissioners doing more to encourage and support charities to learn and reflect upon their data, as well as using and sharing the learning themselves.
Key learning points
The organisations we have spoken to have all experienced challenges in developing and applying shared measurement approaches, and have offered insights into how they are overcoming them.
Win over hearts and minds early
Whilst measuring outcomes is becoming more commonplace across the sector, there are still some hearts and minds that need convincing that it’s all worthwhile. In the early days of Insights, SafeLives found that it needed to work hard to galvanise organisations in the sector to understand the importance of measuring outcomes. By investing time and effort into highlighting the benefits of impact practice, it now has nearly 50 users of Insights, and this is growing steadily. Home-Start found that investing time early on to establish a common language around outcomes helped to embed MESH use into every day practice later on. Home-Start knew that in order for MESH to take off, they also needed to make sure the support was there for users to embrace the data. They devoted time to supporting staff to be able to analyse data. The data analysis was then presented to trustees of local Home-Starts for them to interrogate.
Consider your funding sources
Funding is an important issue for most organisations, and shared measurement takes investment and resources – not only to set up, but to maintain. SafeLives runs Insights through a mix of some external funding – to support services getting started and a user subscription fee – which is shared by the service and the local commissioner. This means that the system remains affordable for users, and sustainable. Users of Insights say their subscription fee is minimal in comparison with the amount of staff time and effort they have saved by adopting a shared system instead of setting up and maintaining their own. Nevertheless, SafeLives acknowledges that funding is its biggest challenge going forward, so this remains at the top of its priorities.
Invest in systems
All of the approaches we have featured in this paper have used shared technologies or digital platforms, which puts them at the more mature end of the shared measurement spectrum. This has helped to scale the approaches – as shared measurement users do not have to develop their own management system – but this does require significant investment and skills. Home-Start UK invests significant resources into maintaining the back-end of its MESH system, which is critical to ensuring it is accessible and up to date. The current digital market is steadily growing in this area, with more databases and CRMs being adapted to incorporate outcome measurement tools.
In this paper, we have identified that both the process – a shared approach – and the product – shared data – of shared measurement can drive improvement, and can have significant benefits for organisations, sectors, and ultimately beneficiaries themselves. The process of pooling resources frees up precious capacity for individual charities and social enterprises, while embedding a culture of impact practice within organisations and sub-sectors. We have seen that collaborating on data collection and analysis has built strong relationships within sectors and between stakeholders; relationships that reach beyond measurement-focused interactions alone. This is likely to reap valuable benefits for service users. The product of a shared measurement approach is information that enables organisations to understand the specific needs of beneficiaries, and to learn from compared outcomes across different programmes. As a result, organisations can better tailor their services and increase their impact. Charities and social enterprises can and should use this data to guide their internal strategies, as well as to influence the strategies of government and funders. These external bodies are more likely to listen if the information comes from a variety of sources and voices. In times of increased demand and funding cuts, this can bring valuable benefits to the sector.
If you’d like to discuss any of the shared measurement approaches presented in this report, have an approach of your own that you would like to share, or need advice, then please feel free to get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ensuring organisations know about the shared measurement approaches available to them is vital to moving share measurement forward. At Inspiring Impact, we know from our research for our Blueprint for shared measurement that to improve uptake of shared measurement, existing approaches need to be communicated and publicised. Inspiring Impact is determined to support this by bringing together organisations who are leading shared approaches with those who want to adopt them. Our Impact Champions and the Inspiring Impact Hub will help us to achieve this. The Hub, for example, pulls together resources relevant to improving impact practice, and enables users to search and filter results according to their needs. We have added a ‘shared measurement’ category, allowing users to upload and search for shared measurement approaches specifically. We call on the sector to engage with this, to help to push this agenda forward by accessing the tools and information available, opening up networks and discussion.
Further to the tools and publications referenced throughout this report, the following may also be useful:
Inspiring Impact (2014) The future of shared measurement.
Inspiring Impact (2014) The Journey to EmploymenT (JET) framework.
FSG (2009) Breakthroughs in shared measurement and social impact.
Collaboration for Impact website: ‘Developing shared measurement’
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