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Handbook 11-16
February 2011

Annex B - District Stability Framework


The district stability framework (DSF) is an analysis and program management process specifically designed to help practitioners improve stability in a local area. The framework encourages unity of effort by providing field implementers from various organizations with a common framework to:

  • Understand the environment from a stability-focused perspective.
  • Maintain focus on the local population and its perceptions.
  • Identify the root causes (sources) of instability in a specific local area.
  • Design activities that specifically address the identified sources of instability.
  • Monitor and evaluate activity outputs and impacts, as well as changes in overall stability.

DSF has been successfully employed by U.S. and coalition military and civilian personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Horn of Africa. The framework has four basic steps. Ideally, all relevant agencies and organizations in the area are included in the entire process, organized into a comprehensive stability working group (SWG). The four basic steps are:

  • Situational awareness: DSF requires population-centric and stability-oriented situational awareness. The SWG achieves this by examining the area of operations (AO) from four perspectives: the operational environment; the cultural environment; stability and instability dynamics; and local perceptions.
  • Analysis: The SWG applies the information gathered in the first step using a specifically-designed analytical process to identify and prioritize the sources of instability (SOIs) in a given local area.
  • Design: The SWG develops activities that will diminish the SOIs identified during the analysis phase. The process begins by brainstorming potential stabilization activities, then filtering and refining the proposed activities against a series of stabilization fundamentals, design principles, and prioritization criteria.
  • Monitoring and evaluation: DSF implementers measure their effort and achievements on three levels: output (which measures activity completion), impact (which measures the effects achieved by individual activities), and overall stability (which measures broad stability conditions and trends). The lessons learned from this step then feed into the adjustment and development of future stabilization activities.

Graphic showing diagram of DSF implementation methodology

Figure B-1. DSF implementation methodology

Situational Awareness

DSF uses four different "lenses" to examines the local environment and achieve a comprehensive understanding of stability conditions and the factors that underlie them:

  • Operational environment: DSF uses two acronyms as checklists for identifying key information about the operational environment: PMESII (political/governance, military/security, economic, social, infrastructure, and information) identifies operational variables in the local area, while ASCOPE (areas, structures, capabilities, organizations, people, and events) focuses on civil considerations. Significantly, DSF practitioners not only identify a list of facts about the operational environment, but more importantly, also the relevance of those facts to their stabilization mission. For example, they do not just identify that the local government is hampered by corruption, but also that they may have to work around and marginalize corrupt officials to be effective.
  • Cultural environment: DSF looks at seven categories of cultural information - identifying the major cultural groups; their interests; important cultural characteristics; traditional mechanisms of resolving conflicts; traditional authorities; current conditions that may be undermining traditional mechanisms and authorities; and how spoilers use these factors to their advantage.
  • Stability/instability dynamics: DSF identifies potential sources of stability and instability as seen from an outsiders' perspective. For sources of stability, these include resiliencies in the society (institutions and mechanisms that help the society function peacefully), events that present a window of opportunity to enhance stability, and key actors (individuals) who are helping to enhance stability. On the other side of the equation are sources of instability, composed of local grievances, events that present a window of vulnerability in which stability may be undermined, and key actors (individuals) who are instigating instability.
  • Local perceptions: Doctrine says that the population is the center of gravity in a counterinsurgency (COIN) - a truth that is no less applicable to other types of stability operations. Because instability is a matter of perspective, understanding the local population's perceptions is a critical factor in any effort to improve stability. DSF is particularly focused on identifying the population's priority grievances - i.e., issues about which a significant percentage of the population is concerned or upset. DSF identifies local perceptions using several possible tools, including population surveys, focus groups, key leader engagements, and polling conducted by external organizations.

One methodology for collecting local perceptions is the tactical conflict survey (TCS) - a simple, four-question survey that can be easily utilized by military units while on patrol, civilian agency implementing partners, and host-nation government and security forces. Each question is followed up by asking "why" to ensure full understanding of the interviewee's perspective. The four questions are:

  • Has the number of people in the village changed in the last year?
  • What are the most important problems facing the village?
  • Who do you believe can solve your problems?
  • What should be done first to help the village?

In addition to the four survey questions, collectors also document some contextual information that will facilitate further analysis. This includes the location and characteristics of the interviewee, including occupation, ethnicity/tribe, age, and gender.

The answers to these questions are then entered into a simple database or spreadsheet using drop-down menus to "bin" the survey answers into standardized categories. By turning this qualitative information into quantitative data, the SWG can then create charts and graphs that make the local perceptions data quickly and easily understandable. A pie chart, for example, represents a snapshot in time, while a line graph can be used to track changes in public opinion over time. An example of these pie charts, created for each neighborhood of a provincial capital in Afghanistan, is shown in Figure B-2 below.

Graphic showing diagram of DSF local perceptions data by neighborhood

Figure B-2. DSF local perceptions data by neighborhood


After collecting information to gain situational awareness, SWGs analyze this data to identify the SOIs and to define an objective and impact indicators that will measure progress in addressing each one. The primary tool used to identify SOI is the SOI analysis matrix. This matrix is at the heart of DSF's "targeting" process. The first three situational analysis lenses typically result in a long list of potential problems and grievances that could be driving instability in an area. As the first column of the SOI analysis matrix indicates, all of these problems may be regarded as "needs." In the three subsequent steps, however, this matrix helps to whittle this list down to a limited number of core SOIs:

  • The first step is to use the fourth situational analysis lens, local perceptions, to identify which problems the local people really care about - i.e., their priority grievances. When using the TCS, this can be as simple as selecting each grievance that polls as a priority for, say, 10 percent or more of the population.
  • The purpose of a stability operation is not simply to fulfill every wish of the local population, but specifically to create a more stable environment. To further narrow its focus, therefore, the SWG next applies the three SOI criteria - i.e., does the priority grievance:
    • Decrease support for the government (based on what locals actually expect of their government).
    • Increase support for anti-government elements (which usually occurs when spoilers are seen as helping to solve the priority grievance).
    • Undermine the normal functioning of society (where the emphasis must be on local norms; for example, if people have never had electricity, the continued lack of electricity can hardly be regarded as undermining the normal functioning of society).

Just meeting one of the three SOI criteria is sufficient for a priority grievance to be regarded as a SOI. The more criteria an SOI meets, however, the higher priority it may be given.

  • Finally, the SOI analysis matrix distinguishes between SOIs that are symptoms versus those that are causes. If an SOI is a symptom, then addressing one or more of the other SOIs may be expected to fix the symptom as well. If an SOI is a cause, then addressing other SOIs will have little or no positive effect on it. A cause SOI must be addressed independently because it is a problem in its own right. SWGs should focus on addressing the causes of instability, not symptoms.

After identifying a discrete number of cause SOIs, SWGs fill out a tactical stability matrix (TSM) for each one. The TSM is a key DSF tool that helps further analyze and (subsequently) design activities to address each significant SOI. The TSM consists of nine columns. The first six columns are included in the analysis process, while the final three are regarded as part of the design phase. The columns in the TSM are filled out by identifying:

  • The targeted SOI.
  • The local population's perceptions of the SOI (perceived causes).
  • The systemic causes of the SOI (i.e., other "root causes" of which the general populace may be unaware).
  • An objective (a succinct goal statement or end state that will address the SOI).
  • Impact indicators, also known as measures of effectiveness (MOEs) (changes in the environment that would indicate progress toward achieving the objective).
  • Impact indicator data sources (where information on the impact indicators can be obtained).
  • Stabilization activities to be conducted.
  • Output indicators, also known as measures of performance (MOPs) (metrics related to each activity that indicate progress toward activity completion).
  • Output indicator data sources (where information on the output indicators can be obtained).


Once the causes, objective, and impact indicators for each SOI have been identified, the next step is to determine what stabilization activities should actually be implemented. This process starts by brainstorming possible activities, then putting those ideas through a series of filters to eliminate poor options and refine/improve others. The first filter consists of three questions known as the stability fundamentals:

  • Does each activity:
    • Increase support for the government?
    • Decrease support for anti-government elements?
    • Increase institutional and societal capability and capacity?

Any proposed activity that does not meet at least one of these criteria should be eliminated. Activities that meet more than one of these criteria are preferred and may be prioritized.

Proposed activities that survive this first filter should then be refined using the seven design principles. To the extent possible, practitioners should design or modify each activity such that it:

  • Ensures sustainability by the local government or institutions.
  • Facilitates local ownership.
  • Considers the trade-offs between short-term and long-term impacts.
  • Leverages/supports other government agencies, intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and host-nation programs.
  • Fits the local political and cultural context.
  • Strengthens governmental accountability and transparency.
  • Provides flexibility.

After this, SWGs flesh out the details of their proposed stabilization activities; as they do so, new information may come to light that requires them to modify their proposed activities and potentially return to previous steps of the design process. Next, SWGs screen each proposed activity against its available resources. Finally, activities for which the necessary resources are available (or can be obtained) should be prioritized based on their anticipated impact in addressing the targeted SOI. This completes Column 7 of the TSM.

Once the appropriate activities are identified, SWGs complete the TSM by identifying output indicators (MOPs) and output indicator data sources that will enable them to determine whether an activity is proceeding as planned and, ultimately, when it has been completed.

Lastly in the design phase, SWGs use the synchronization matrix to synchronize and prioritize identified activities by establishing a logical sequence for the activities, coordinate the activities along the lines of operation, and assign activities and tasks to specific organizations.

Table of Example tactical stability matrix

Table 1. Example tactical stability matrix

Monitoring and Evaluation

The final step in DSF - evaluation - takes place during and after the implementation of stabilization activities. Evaluation is conducted on three levels. The first two have already been identified as part of the TSM.

  • Output indicators (MOPs) simply track implementation of an activity. They answer the question, "Is the activity progressing?" and in the long run, "Is the activity complete?" Examples of output indicators might be the number of miles of road paved or number of police trained. Output indicators are monitored during the implementation of an activity, until it is completed.
  • Impact indicators (MOEs) measure the effect an activity achieved. They answer the question, "Did the activity have the intended effect?" Examples might be decreased travel time (for a road project) or decreased criminal activity (for a police training activity). They are generally evaluated only after an activity is completed.

The final evaluation level is:

  • Overall stability, which takes into account the stabilization impact of all the activities a unit has conducted over a period of several weeks or months. It asks, "Is stability increasing or decreasing?" Measuring the change in overall stability is a key component of the DSF process. By identifying and measuring a common basket of stability-focused indicators, it is possible to track the change in stability for a given district. When aggregated, they can provide a measurement of overall changes in stability over time for a given district.

Suggested indicators for tracking overall stability include:

  • District government recognition (government legitimacy in the eyes of the population).
  • Local-on-local violence.
  • Economic activity.
  • Host-nation security force presence.
  • Population freedom of movement.
  • Local perceptions of the government.
  • Local perceptions of security conditions.

As each of these three levels of monitoring and evaluation occurs, SWGs should identify lessons that can help them improve future stabilization activities, or sustain successful ones. For example, implementers may learn that certain external factors prevented their program from being successful. Subsequent efforts may need to address these external factors first, or take a completely different approach to addressing the SOIs.


DSF is specifically designed to help overcome many of the challenges to successful stability operations:

  • DSF keeps SWGs focused on the center of gravity for COIN and stability operations - the population and its perceptions.
  • DSF provides a common operating picture for both military and civilian agencies. By making the population's perspective the focal point, these organizations can focus their varied resources and expertise on a single, agreed set of priorities.
  • DSF helps prioritize activities based on their importance to the local populace and their relevance to the over-arching mission of stabilizing the area.
  • DSF enhances continuity between units. DSF data can be easily passed along from one unit to the next - establishing a clear baseline for the problems identified, the steps taken to address those problems, and the impact those activities achieved.
  • DSF empowers implementers at the tactical level by giving them hard data that can be used as a basis for decision making at their level and for influencing decisions at higher levels.
  • The DSF framework forces us to identify both MOPs and MOEs for our activities - rather than the all-too-common pattern of only tracking the MOPs.
  • By tracking indicators of Overall Stability, DSF helps us determine whether we are actually making progress toward stabilizing the environment.
  • By identifying the issues that matter most to the population, DSF helps identify information operations themes that actually resonate with the population.

District stability framework (DSF) tool kit

The DSF tool kit on the following pages assists units in implementing the DSF methodology. It consists of the TCS, TCS collection planner, ASCOPE-PMESII matrix, cultural matrix, factors of instability/stability matrix, SOI matrix, tactical stability matrix, activity design matrix, synchronization matrix, monitoring and evaluation (M&E) matrix, and the overall stability index. This tool kit is the basis for a successful assessment program. A successful program will only exist if units conduct proper analysis and effective design, followed up by rapid implementation with comprehensive monitoring and continuous evaluation. Units that only employ the TCS, hoping it is a "silver bullet," will do more harm than good.


Diagram of ASCOPE/PMESII matrix

Figure B-3. ASCOPE/PMESII matrix

One model for describing the operational environment is ASCOPE-PMESII. Each letter stands for an aspect of the operational environment: Areas, Structures, Capabilities, Organizations, People, and Events. The six ASCOPE areas of civil considerations are used to inform the six PMESII operational variables: Political/governance, Military/security, Economic, Social, Infrastructure, and Information.

ASCOPE-PMESII is population-focused rather than enemy-focused. In contrast to a traditional area assessment, ASCOPE-PMESII organizes and examines strategic and operational factors for their relevance to local stability.

Cultural matrix

Graphic showing diagram of Cultural matrix

Figure B-4. Cultural matrix

The cultural environment is the second aspect of DSF situational awareness. This awareness starts with a thorough understanding of the organization, history, and interests of local groups.

In depth knowledge of cultural factors is essential to the development of stability-focused situational awareness. In particular, understanding how traditional conflict resolution mechanisms function or how stabilizing or destabilizing actors can leverage these factors for negative and positive effects is critical. Six key factors to analyze include:

  • Major cultural groups and their interests.
  • Cultural codes, traditions, and values.
  • Traditional conflict resolution mechanisms.
  • Traditional authorities.
  • Disruptions to traditional authorities.
  • Ways destabilizing elements take advantage of these factors.

Factors of instability/stability matrix

Graphic showing diagram of Factors of instability/stability matrix

Figure B-5. Factors of instability/stability matrix

Instability/stability dynamics is the third lens for situational awareness. It focuses specifically on the factors that typically work together to create or prevent instability. Stability occurs when the instability factors "outweigh" the stability factors.

Instability factors

There are three factors of instability to consider:

  • Community grievances. Grievances occur when people believe their needs are not being met and/or their interests are not being defended.
  • Events with the potential to be destabilizing (windows of vulnerability).
  • Individuals with the means and motivations to exploit grievances and windows of vulnerability.

Although there can be many grievances, they do not all necessarily foster instability unless key actors with both the motivation and the means to translate these grievances into widespread instability emerge. Windows of vulnerability are often precipitated by a specific event that key actors can capitalize on - for example, the death of a key leader, an economic crisis, or a natural disaster.

Stability factors

Counterbalancing the factors of instability are the three stability factors:

  • Resiliencies, which are the processes, relationships, and institutions that enable the society to peacefully solve its own problems and meet its own needs.
  • Events with the potential to mitigate conflict and foster stability (windows of opportunity).
  • Individuals with the means and motivations to foster stability.

Most events are fundamentally neutral. That is, the same event may become an opportunity for the environment to become more or less stable, depending on how it plays out. Elections are a good example. If an election plays out peacefully and legitimately, it can help strengthen the political system and mitigate violence. If an election is violent and corrupt, however, it can highlight government ineffectiveness and undermine the legitimacy of the people/parties elected. SWGs identify upcoming events so that, to the extent possible, they can shape the events to become windows of opportunity for stability to improve, rather than for instability to grow.

DSF collection planner

Operational considerations

Operational Considerations


Relevance for Collectors

1. How are government officials and security forces viewed?

(Collectors will be associated with the government.)



2. What is the security situation for locals?

(Affects willingness to speak with collectors.)



3. Infrastructure?

(Affects patrol time and the location of the population.)



Cultural considerations

Cultural Considerations


Relevance for Collectors

1. What are the major groups and where are they located?




2. Daily and seasonal routines?

(Identify appropriate times and places to speak with locals.)



3. Cultural prohibitions?

(Do not offend locals.)



4. Cultural obligations?

(How do locals interact with themselves and outsiders?)



5. Societal hierarchy?

(Whom should you engage first and how will you identify them?)



6. Common courtesies and greetings

(Appropriate greetings suggest you understand and value the local culture.)



7. Time orientation?

(Affects patrol time and appointments)



TCS considerations

Survey Considerations


1. Whom will you engage?

(Hint: Identify and segment the major groups.)


2. Survey parameters

(How many people do you want to survey and how frequently?)


3. Choosing collectors

(Who will conduct the surveys?)


Figure B-6. DSF collection planner

The collection planner is a tool utilized to help collectors understand the issues at hand and how those issues will impact on the collector to do his or her job. When completing the first two parts, units will identify the specific issues that are of importance for each block to keep in consideration when planning for collection. More importantly than the issues are the specific relevance each of those factors has on a unit's ability to collect - not overall relevance, just relevance to the unit's requirement to collect/gather local information. The planner has three parts: operational considerations, cultural considerations, and survey considerations.

Operational considerations

Operational considerations simply help the collector understand the area in which he or she is operating.

Cultural considerations

The matrix will allow you to pinpoint most of the cultural elements you need to consider prior to surveying the population. The first two considerations help you identify which groups you need to engage and when it is appropriate to do so.

Considerations 3-5 tell you how you need to engage locals and what different elements you need to consider to be respectful and not cause a "diplomatic incident."

Considerations 6-7 help you engage the locals by putting yourself at their level both during engagements and when planning for them.

All of these elements combined will give standing operating procedures to collectors, allowing for a standardized, seamless survey process.

Survey considerations

Finally, as a part of the collection planner, units need to operationalize the survey process. If this is not done properly, it becomes everyone's task. And when it is everyone's task, it is no one's task, and the collection process collapses. So this is simple - it is the 5Ws (who, what, where, when, and why) and the H (how) of the plan.

ASK: Who will you survey? Identify targeted population segments: number, occupation, gender, and tribe.

ASK: How many people? Sets goal for the number of DSF conversations (2-3 DSF interviews per patrol?). This depends on the population of the area. The goal is to survey 0.1 percent of the population per month in areas with more than 20,000 inhabitants. In smaller areas, you want to probe a minimum of 20 people per month for your data to be relevant.

ASK: How often will you survey them? You want to have the monthly 0.1 percent or more than 20 every month. Make sure you do not send all of your patrols to collect on the same day, as you risk alienating people. Instead, trickle your collection over the span of the month. You want to make sure to target the same segments, not the same people, every month in roughly equivalent numbers.

ASK: Who will conduct the surveys?
    • People who are mature.
    • People who have good interpersonal skills.
    • People who are culturally aware.
    • People who are skillful in using an interpreter.

Tactical conflict survey (TCS)

Graphic showing Sample TCS

Figure B-7. Sample TCS

Sources of instability analysis matrix

Graphic showing diagram of Sources of instability (SOI) analysis matrix

Figure B-8. Sources of instability (SOI) analysis matrix

Acknowledged problems in a community are not necessarily underlying sources of instability. Effective stability programming relies on careful assessment of potential SOIs against the stability criteria:

  • Does the potential instability factor increase support for anti-government elements (AGEs)?
  • Does the potential instability factor decrease support for the government?
  • Does the potential instability factor undermine the normal functioning of society?

The SOI analysis tool takes factors of instability identified during situational awareness and applies the three stability criteria. Not all priority grievances are destabilizing.

Tactical stability matrix (analysis and design)

Graphic showing diagram of Tactical stability matrix

Figure B-9. Tactical stability matrix

Analysis components of the TSM:

  • Source of instability - A very brief description of the problem or issue, often just a couple of words, as identified through the analysis of all available operational, cultural, tribal, and local perception data on a given area.
  • Cause (perception) - The perceived cause of a source of instability (i.e., priority grievances commonly cited by the local population).
  • Cause (systemic) - The root causes of the problem that relate to the perceived causes. To identify systemic causes, ask yourself what circumstances led to community perceptions? What circumstances allow the problem to continue? What conditions prevent the problem from being fixed?
  • Objective - A statement of the conditions that will diminish the identified SOI. Often it is simply the opposite of the source of instability and its associated conditions. Keep in mind the three Stability Criteria when developing the objective statement.
  • Impact indicators - Also called MOE, impact indicators measure the effectiveness of your activities against the predetermined objective and systemic causes. To identify impact indicators, ask: "How will I know if the objective has been achieved?" Example: If "police abuse" is the source of instability, impact indicators might include:
    • Increased popular support for the police.
    • Population provides more actionable intelligence to the police.
    • Police presence in previously no-go areas.
  • Impact Data Sources - Methods to obtain the information identified in your impact indicators.

The TSM is used during the design phase to identify potential activities addressing the objective and systemic causes as well as to identify output indicators and data sources to monitor those activities.

Design components of the TSM:

  • Activities - Things you will do to mitigate the systemic causes of instability and achieve the identified objective.
  • Output indicators - Also called MOP, output indicators determine whether an activity has been completed. To identify output indicators, ask yourself: "How can I confirm that the proposed activity is progressing as planned or has been completed?"
    • Number of projects completed.
    • Number of police trained.
    • Number of road miles completed.
    • Number of dollars spent. Example: If "police training" was an activity, an output indicator would be the number of police trained.
  • Output data sources - Methods to obtain the information identified in your output indicators.

Activity design worksheet

Graphic showing diagram of Activity design worksheet

Figure B-10. Activity design worksheet

The activity design worksheet is a tool to assist with filtering activities against the stability criteria, design principles, and resource availability. It should be used while completing the TSM.

  • Stability criteria: "Does the activity ... "
    • Increase support for the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA)?
    • Decrease support for AGEs?
    • Increase institutional and societal capacity and capability?
  • Design principles: "Is the activity ... "
    • Sustainable by the local government and/or local institutions?
    • Promoting local ownership putting local institutions in the lead?
    • Fostering long-term versus short-term results?
    • Leveraging support from other organizations?
    • Politically and culturally appropriate?
    • Strengthening accountability and transparency?
    • Flexible?
  • Resource availability: "Do you have the required ... "
    • Money?
    • Personnel?
    • Expertise?
    • Time?

Synchronization matrix

Graphic showing diagram of Synchronization matrix

Figure B-11. Synchronization matrix

When designing and implementing activities, it is critical to coordinate with other actors working in the same district. The synchronization matrix helps actors in an SWG with the following:

  • Planning a logical sequence for activities.
  • Coordinating along multiple lines of operation.
  • Addressing multiple causes of instability.
  • Maximizing impact and minimizing effort/cost.

Monitoring and evaluation matrix

Graphic showing diagram of Monitoring and evaluation matrix

Figure B-12. Monitoring and evaluation matrix

The M&E matrix is a program management and reporting tool that measures activity output and impact. It tracks progress against a baseline to assess the impact activities are having. The M&E matrix focuses on the first two levels of M&E.

  • Level 1, activity output, focuses on:
    • Have activities been completed?
    • Are activities being implemented successfully?
    • Are there external factors affecting the implementation of activities?
    • Are indicators measuring the appropriate outputs? If not, should new indicators be identified?
    • Are your data sources providing the correct indicator data? If not, are new data sources needed?
  • Level 2, impact, focuses on:
    • Is the intended impact/change in the environment being observed?
    • Does this change represent progress towards the objective and a diminishment of a root cause?
    • How are external factors influencing and/or causing the changes being observed?
    • Are the activities contributing to the expected impact and the overall objective? If not, consider alternative activities.
    • Are indicators measuring the impact appropriately? If not, consider adopting new indicators.
    • Are data sources providing the correct indicator data? If not, consider adopting new data sources and/or new means to collect them.

Overall stability index

Graphic showing diagram of Overall stability index

Figure B-13. Overall stability index

Measuring the change in overall stability is a key component of the DSF process and the third level of M&E. By measuring a common basket of stability-focused indicators, it is possible to track the change in stability for a given district. Seven recommended overall stability indicators are listed below; however, they can be modified as needed for adaptation to a specific operating environment. The overall stability indicators are not linked to activities. When aggregated, they can provide a measurement of overall changes in stability over time for a given district. The seven indicators were selected to provide a picture of what life is like in a district and how it is changing for the local population.

  • District government recognition.
  • Local-on-local violence.
  • Economic activity.
  • Host-nation security force presence.
  • Population freedom of movement.
  • Local perceptions of the government.
  • Local perceptions of security conditions.

For further information on DSF, DSF materials, or questions, contact the USAID Office of Military Affairs at "".


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