How to write Case Study Assignment

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WRITING CASE STUDIES: A MANUAL ADAPTED FOR USE BY THE ONLINE LEARNING CENTRE USE THIS MANUAL AS A GUIDE TO PREPARING YOUR OWN CASE MATERIALS THIS MATERIAL IS ABRIDGED AND ADAPTED FROM THE ORIGINAL VERSION PUBLISHED BY THE INTERNATIONAL RECORDS MANAGEMENT TRUST USED BY PERMISSION SECTION 1 THE USE OF CASE STUDIES WHAT ARE CASE STUDIES? The case study is an account of an administrative problem or situation in a real or imagined organization. In addition to the description of a specific problem, a case study may include additional information necessary to place the scenario in context and an analysis of possible solutions or actions arising from the situation. One author of case studies, Paul R. Lawrence, defined the case study as follows: A good case is the vehicle by which a chunk of reality is brought into the classroom to be worked over by the class and the instructor. A good case keeps the class discussion grounded upon some of the stubborn facts that must be faced in real life situations. It is the anchor on academic flights of speculation. It is the record of complex situations that must be literally pulled apart and put together again before the situations can be understood. It is the target for the expression of attitudes or ways of thinking brought into the classroom.1 The purpose of using a case study in a teaching environment is to present the student with a scenario as close to that which he or she may encounter in subsequent work, in order that the student may be able to work through the problem and devise reasonable and workable solutions. The case study puts the student in the problem solver’s shoes. The case study does not provide answers. Rather, it raises questions and allows the student to work through the decision-making process and find his or her preferred solution. The case study generates an action-oriented teaching environment; the student must actively participate in the process in order to meet the learning objectives. Through this process, much of the responsibility for learning is naturally transferred to the student. 1 Paul R Lawrence, ‘The Preparation of Case Material,’ in Kenneth R Andrews, ed., The Case Method of Teaching Human Relations and Administration (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1953), p. 215. Case studies can help the student develop the following skills: • identifying and recognising problems • understanding and interpreting data • understanding and recognising assumptions and inferences, as opposed to concrete facts • thinking analytically and critically • understanding and assessing interpersonal relationships • exercising and making judgments • communicating ideas and opinions • making and defending decisions. A case study presents a realistic problem, one that might reasonably take place within the normal work environment. The case study will include the complexities natural in the work environment, such as questions of policy or procedure, issues relating to reporting relationships or hierarchies or financial or administrative concerns. Case studies should be as realistic as possible. Case studies are often based on actual situations, which may be fictionalised to protect confidentiality. They are usually institutionally organised, dealing with a situation within an organization or agency. In order to make the case study as realistic as possible, the author must report to the best of his or her ability the facts of the case at the time the problem existed. USING CASE STUDIES Case studies can be used in teaching in a variety of ways. The choice of teaching method is of course up to the individual instructor, based on the resources and time available, the nature of the class and the students and the subject of the case study in question. It is important to note that, as the case study method of teaching traditionally requires considerable interpretation and discussion among students and between students and teacher, it is not often used for teaching by distance education. It is possible to use case studies in self-study programmes, but this requires considerable planning and time on the part of the instructor, which in some respects is not in keeping with the independent nature of distance education work. Following are some examples of teaching methods using case studies. Class Discussion The case may be presented to students, either on the spot for immediate discussion, mirroring a real-life situation, or as preparatory work in advance of discussion in a later class. The discussion itself may take place among the entire class, or the class may be divided into small groups, each of which analyses the case and reports back to the larger group. Role Play The case study may be presented either in whole or in part as a role play. For example, the students may be given ‘parts’ as people in the case and asked to present their ‘character’s’ concerns and point of view. Discussion and analysis would proceed either through the role play or at the conclusion, as a class review. Interviews The students may only be presented with part of the information and be required to ask particular questions to extract the rest of the data needed and provide their analysis and recommendations. The instructor or other students may serve as ‘actors’ to present the information and answer questions. Assignments The case study may be presented as an assignment, with the student required to write an analysis and recommendations. This may be done as a take-home assignment or as part of an examination, requiring immediate response. THE LIFESPAN OF A CASE STUDY Case studies can quickly become obsolete. For example, a case based on issues of computer technology will not be a useful teaching tool once that technology has been superseded. Studies involving materials or labour costs may quickly become dated as prices rise, or fall. In the areas most suited to case study work – professional management and practical application of theories – external realities will change so often that case studies will inevitably be out of date within a few years. A case study may only be relevant for two or three years before being revised. Some professional case study writers have suggested that the average life of a case study is two to three years. Thus when constructing case studies it is worth considering the potential life of the work in relation to the amount of work put into its creation. Does a case study involving detailed salary and budget figures need to be twenty pages long? Is it possible to write the study in such a way that numbers can be altered later, allowing the case to be updated easily in two or three years? TOPICS FOR CASE STUDIES Because the case study is a subjective document, there is no one ‘correct’ answer to any problem posed. Each student, each class and each instructor will provide a different interpretation of the issues presented. Thus case studies are often best used for teaching in those areas that are more interpretive than prescriptive. For example, case studies can be extremely useful to illustrate how to establish priorities, develop strategic or business plans, make arrangement or description decisions or apply theories or principles. Interpretive topics are well suited to case study instruction. Section 2 ELEMENTS OF A CASE STUDY A case study may consist of one scenario or several, and it may take many forms, from a traditional paper-based document to films, videos or audio recordings. The case study document may be as short as two pages or as long as thirty. The case study is often accompanied by a set of teaching notes, one to several pages long. The teaching notes are in effect any communication between the author of the case and any subsequent instructor using the case, whether it be the author himself or another individual. The notes are intended to help the instructor understand the reason the case study was written, the questions that might arise from it and the professional or theoretical points that might be raised in discussion. Teaching notes outline the educational objectives of the case study. Some people argue that teaching notes are best prepared well in advance of the use of the case; others suggest that the notes should be prepared just before teaching the case each time, as the instructor may see different interpretations with each use of the case. Others recommend preparing a note after the use of the case on the issues raised during discussion, as a reminder for the next time. There is also debate over whether teaching notes should accompany cases that are published or otherwise generally available. While there is agreement that it is useful to understand the author’s purpose in preparing the case study, there is also a concern that if the notes are too prescriptive they might discourage subsequent instructors from working independently with the case material, instead relying on other interpretations of the problem. On the next pages are descriptions of the common elements found in a case study and in the teaching notes, in the order they are usually presented. Each of these elements is demonstrated in detail in the section on constructing a case study. Elements of a Case Study Element: Description: Introduction The introduction defines the problem to be examined and explains the parameters or limitations of the situation. Overview/Analysis The overview/analysis provides a scenario of the situation and offers more detail about the various players in the scenario, including the organization, its employees or other people involved with the issue in question. It may also mention professional, technical or theoretical issues that arise from the situation. It might also include graphic or visual aids such as budgets, organizational charts, mission statements or technical specifications, as relevant. In complex case studies, the overview and analysis may be presented separately. Status report The status report describes the organization’s actions, on the matter. It may include statements from managers or employees about their intentions for resolving the issue. Case problems In many case studies, the status report may end with one or two case problems, which require the learner to analyse or solve a particular question. Case problems generally take one of three forms: 1. Give a situation and ask learners what they would do next. 2. Set a task, such as asking learners to prepare a report recommending an action for review by a key official. 3. Illustrate a scenario and ask learners to analyse the faults and recommend how it should have been handled. Appendices The case study may include as many appendices as necessary to ensure learners understand the case scenario and have the necessary information to solve the case problems, including exhibit copies of documents, charts, technical specifications and so on. Elements of Teaching Notes Element: Description: Synopsis The synopsis presents a brief overview of the case in question. Educational objectives The educational objectives includes a discussion of the learning points raised by the case. Discussion outline/question The discussion outline/question set provides the instructor set with guidelines for how to teach the case. It includes key questions to raise while discussing the case study, with appropriate answers or discussion points. Tips for resolving the case If a specific problem was outlined in the case, these tips problem might describe the objectives of the problem and tasks to be undertaken. Tips might also be included about approaches that might be taken, sources that could be consulted and points that should be addressed in arriving at a ‘solution’. Appendices to the teaching note may include a Appendices bibliography, a glossary of relevant terms or a list of other activities or exercises that might be used to further learning of the subject. Some appendices, such as the bibliography or glossary, may be prepared in such a way that they may be easily reproduced for the students. SECTION 3 CONSTRUCTING A CASE STUDY What follows is a breakdown of the elements of the typical case study with a description of how the elements are constructed and an example of their application to the development of a case study. The intention is to complete with a finished case study. INTRODUCTION The introduction defines the problem to be examined and explains the parameters or limitations of the situation. Example: Comments: It is mid-February 1996. Andover University Archives is The introduction establishes the problem faced with a decision about whether to restructure its and provides the boundaries of the existing but inadequate automated information management situation. system or to scrap the system entirely, purchase new The University Archives has a short time software and develop a new system better suited to its in which to make a major decision about changing information management needs. the direction of its information The university is aware that a pool of unallocated funds management. will come available on 1 March, as part of year-end It appears the University Archives must financial reallocations. If the university wishes to use these make some sort of decision or risk losing funds to alter its information management systems, it has to the funding available to undertake the prepare a detailed application to the University Finance work. Department in the next two weeks. To do so, it has to decide whether to revamp the existing system or replace it; in either case it must know what resources will be required. The Director of the University Archives knows that, aside from these year-end funds, money for such a significant project will not be available for at least another two years, as the university has imposed a freeze on all non-essential spending. OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS The overview/analysis provides a scenario of the situation and offers more detail about the various players in the scenario, including the organization, its employees or other people involved with the issue in question. It may also mention professional, technical or theoretical issues that arise from the situation. It might also include graphic or visual aids such as budgets, organizational charts, mission statements or technical specifications, as relevant. In complex case studies, the overview and analysis may be presented separately. Example: Comments: In 1988, six months after his appointment, the Director of The background provides a detailed the University Archives began to develop an automated narrative of the situation. The narrative information management system. This system would be is presented in chronological order, with used to manage the following tasks: no foreshadowing. In this case the University Archives is presented as • establishing and maintaining a records retention having a clear understanding of the tasks schedule for university records; it wishes to accomplish with the software. • providing annual disposition documentation to advise However, it may later turn out that the departments of pending destruction or transfer of University Archives has misidentified its records; requirements, or that it has changed its requirements and expected its existing • accessioning records into the records centre and into resources to handle new priorities. the archives; • tracking the movement of records retrieved for Since the problem is not intended to be reference; straightforward, the narrative may include additional information, including • maintaining statistics on the uses of the records centre ‘red herrings’, that the student must and archives. consider as they search for the key issues. The University Archives chose the Paradox software For example, it may or may not be package; its decision was based on the fact that the important that the University Archives university’s finance and personnel departments were acquired the software through a special acquiring Paradox at the same time and a special reduced purchase programme, and it may or may price was offered for a bulk purchase, with two years’ not be important that a member of staff service and assistance included. Since the assistant had previous experience with the archivist was well-versed in the use of Paradox and would software. be responsible for its maintenance, this seemed a logical It is important not to use language that action. might bias the presentation in any way, The University Archives spent many years developing the such as ‘unfortunately, the Director intended functions but gradually found that the software chose to do x’ or ‘the University Archives was not flexible enough to handle all of the required tasks. made the mistake of doing y’. The student It was necessary to bring in a computer programmer every must be left free to evaluate all aspects of six months to download and reload the data to eliminate the situation independently. errors generated in the data processing stage. Further, the The retirement of the assistant archivist, University Archives wished to expand the information management system to include the following tasks: and the appearance of a contractor, can serve as a red herring or as a clue to the • automatic generation of standardised records key issues involved in the case. It may be descriptions based on administrative information useful to provide quotations from the entered into the computer; contractor’s report in the analysis section • printing of labels, finding aids and lists as required; of the case study or as an appendix. The fact that there has been a loss of data • on-line searching of files, by title, by creating can be seen as a key issue, or it may be a department or by keyword searching of the database; separate problem entirely. • expansion of the database to include all archival records in the repository, both institutional and private; The overview should bring the case up to the present, without necessarily providing • possible internet access to the archival data, with information about the actual decisions restricted access to selected information about current made or action taken. That information records. is usually included in the status report. As of 1992, the University Archives had a staff of four: two full-time professional staff, one full-time clerical assistant and one part-time student assistant. In 1993 the staff complement was reduced to three when the assistant archivist retired. As of 1996 this position had not been filled, owing to the budget freeze. In 1993 the University Archives engaged a contractor to assist with revising the database. The consultant advised that the software chosen was not adequate to the task, but at that time the University Archives was not in a position to change. After eighteen months the contractor provided an interim report recommending that no further data be added to the database until the software was changed. The University Archives continued to add data until spring 1995, when the system suffered a collapse and two week’s data had to be re-entered. At that time the Director requested emergency funds to take action on restoring and upgrading the system, but the university was only able to provide 1000, which allowed the University Archives to purchase and install a tape backup system. Since summer 1995 the Director has been researching other information management systems and has determined that Inmagic software would perform more of the functions desired, though it was more suited to textual searching and reporting than to the number crunching required to generate disposition schedules and annual records updates. In February, the Director was notified by a colleague in the Finance Department that some funds would be available for end-of-year projects, which is why the University Archives is now considering a major change in the software and systems used. STATUS REPORT The status report describes the organization’s actions on the matter. It may include statements from managers or employees about their intentions for resolving the issue. Example: Comments: As of March 1996, the Director of the University Archives The status report presents the situation to had solicited preliminary quotations from two consultants date but does not offer the ‘solution’ to for (1) revision of the existing system and (2) development the problem. The students will be asked and installation of a new system. to determine the options available as part of their analysis of the case study. Consultant A estimated 10,000 for revision and 65,000 for installation of a new system but advised against revision, claiming it was a poor use of resources. Consultant B estimated 15,000 for revision and 35,000 for installation of a new system and felt either approach was feasible. Given the short time frame available for preparing their quotations, both consultants reserved the right to provide revised estimates prior to commencing any work. The Director is not satisfied that he has sufficient information to make a valid decision about which direction to go. He sees his options as follows: 1. submit a proposal for revision to the existing system; 2. submit a proposal for development of a new system; 3. submit a proposal for a project to conduct a complete investigation of the University Archives’ information requirements and options; 4. forego the opportunity and make alternate plans. CASE PROBLEM The case problem may do the following. • Give a situation and ask learners what they would do next. • Set a task, such as asking learners to prepare a report recommending an action for review by a key official. • Illustrate a scenario and ask learners to analyse the faults and recommend how it should have been handled. Example: Comments: The Director is concerned that he may not have sufficient information to make a valid decision about which direction to go, but he knows that if he does not act now when the funds are available, he will lose his chance and be stuck with a collapsed system. He calls you in to help him by assessing the situation and recommending a realistic and effective course of action. The deliverable is a three-page report summarising the issues, analysing the alternatives The case problem sets the task but does and making a recommendation. not offer the ‘solution’ to the problem. Think over the situation and prepare an annotated plan of The students will be asked to determine how you would approach advising the Director of the the options available as part of their University Archives. Starting from your return to your analysis of the case study. office to begin the task, outline and explain the rationale behind the steps you will take in preparing the advice, the form you will be choosing to deliver and briefly summarise the key points you have decided to make in the three page report. APPENDICES The case study may include as many appendices as necessary, including exhibit copies of documents, charts, technical specifications and so on. Example: Comments: Appendix: Data Structure This case study may include such additional information as: Existing data structure: Indexable / Searchable • technical specifications for the ID identification number no yes existing software system, including DN department name no yes data fields and so on ON office name no yes • annual budget for the University CN contact name no yes Archives SDR start date of records no yes • extracts from the annual report of the University Archives, indicating how EDR end date of records no yes the repository’s resources have been DE date information allocated entered/updated no no The decision about how extensive the Proposed data structure: Indexable / Searchable appendices should be will depend on the nature of the case study. The case should ID identification number no yes only be as long or complex as necessary ME main entry yes yes to serve as a teaching tool. It is not a DN department name yes yes good use of time, for example, to provide ON office name yes yes extensive financial documentation which may make the case study obsolete sooner CN contact name yes yes rather than later. SDR start date of records yes yes EDR end date of records yes yes DNR date note yes yes PD physical description no yes LMM linear metric measurement no yes ROA restrictions on access no yes RM related materials no yes AH administrative history no yes SC scope and contents note no yes AP access points yes yes DE date information entered/updated no yes SECTION 4 CONSTRUCTING TEACHING NOTES What follows next is a breakdown of the elements of the typical teaching notes with a description of how the elements are constructed and an example of their application. SYNOPSIS The synopsis presents a brief overview of the case in question. Example: Comments: In 1988 the Andover University Archives installed the The synopsis simply provides an overview Paradox software package to manage its information of the key issue(s) of the case, serving as systems, including managing retention schedules, preparing an aide-memoir for the instructor. disposition documentation, controlling accessioning and tracking activities and maintaining statistics. Over the years the University Archives has found the software to be increasingly inadequate for given tasks and unsuitable for new tasks the University Archives wishes to automate. As of March 1996, the University Archives has an opportunity to apply for funds for a special project, either to restructure the existing system or to scrap it and develop a new one. The Director knows that, aside from these year- end funds, money for such a project will not be available for at least another two years, as the university has imposed a freeze on all non-essential spending. The Director solicited preliminary quotations from two consultants for (1) revision of the existing system and (2) development and installation of a new system. Consultant A estimated 10,000 for revision and 65,000 for installation of a new system but advised against revision. Consultant B estimated 15,000 for revision and 35,000 for installation of a new system and felt either approach was feasible. The Director sees his options as follows: 1. submit a proposal for revision to the existing system; 2. submit a proposal for development of a new system; 3. submit a proposal for a project to conduct a complete investigation of the University Archives’ information requirements and options; 4. forego the opportunity and make alternate plans. EDUCATIONAL OBJECTIVES The educational objectives includes a discussion of the learning points raised by the case. Example: Comments: This case study may seem to focus largely on technical The educational objectives of a particular issues, such as the selection of the most appropriate case may vary depending on the software for various tasks. However, it is really more a environment within which it is used. For management problem. example, this case study addresses both technical and organizational issues; in a At the end of the exercise, students should have a clearer course on records systems automation the understanding of the following issues: former may be a priority, whereas in a management course the latter may take • The importance of planned management of resources precedence. and systems. Topics of relevance include budgeting, planning and utilising resources such as permanent staff and consultants. • The importance of project planning. Topics to discuss include determining institutional and systems requirements, identifying and addressing changes to those requirements and allocating resources effectively. • The requirement for technical and systems structures. Topics to discuss include the identification of computer requirements, the choice of software and planning for upgrades. DISCUSSION OUTLINE/QUESTION SET The discussion outline/question set provides the instructor with guidelines for how to teach the case. It includes key questions to raise while discussing the case study, with appropriate answers or discussion points. Example: Comments: Following are key issues or questions to raise to encourage The questions and comments serve to discussion about this case. These are not presented in any guide the discussion. Depending on the particular order. course within which the case is used, the discussion may focus on various aspects • The University Archives is facing a deadline for of the problem, from technical to action; is this a realistic deadline? Perhaps the managerial. However, students should University Archives should not be concerned about be encouraged to consider all relevant applying for these particular funds. Perhaps it should concerns, even if they do not seem to have instead investigate other options that allow it to make a direct bearing to the topic being taught decisions in a more planned fashion. at that time. • It seems that in 1996 the University Archives wishes to The purpose of the case study is to use the software for much more than was intended introduce realistic situations in a when the software was selected in 1988. Is the classroom environment; students must University Archives trying to accomplish too much have the opportunity to consider all the with one software package? practical as well as theoretical problems • Institutional requirements are always changing and it is that arise. often necessary to plan for software upgrades. It is not clear that the Director planned for regular upgrades. Would he be hasty in making a decision now rather than taking more time to plan for future requirements? How does an institution manage changing requirements? • Staff resources are critical to the success and continuity of any technical or operational system. Does it matter that the one individual in the University Archives familiar with the software has retired, leaving a gap in knowledge? Should the Director have arranged for more extensive training for other staff prior to this retirement? • The consultants’ estimates vary considerably. Given that they both had mere days to prepare their quotations, does the Director have any guarantee that their estimates reflect the real situation. Should he defer action and investigate other options? • At the end of the discussion, the students should be asked what options they see to resolve this issue. TIPS FOR RESOLVING THE CASE PROBLEM The instructor can pose a number of suggestions for resolving the case problem or develop activities to help the students work through the case and see how they might resolve the issues raised. Example: Comments: The instructor should encourage students to prepare a course of action for the problem presented. They must define the nature of their task and responsibility and focus on how to fulfil it productively within the short three-day timeframe. They also need to determine what their recommendations or actions would be. Proposing a course of action might be assigned as a role play or a longer written exercise or assignment and might include learners brainstorming points under the following The instructor can determine a number of headings. actions students could take, or he or she • Identify the key players, factors and issues in the case. could allow the students to determine their own activities. It is useful to offer • Tease out the underlying problems, prioritise them, guidance so that students don’t end up then identify resources and gather information ‘off track’ and discussing issues that are pertinent to addressing them: Do you have sufficient not relevant to the purpose of the case information or will you need to gather more? What study. sources of information are critical? • Identify and analyse the various options, perhaps using a SWOT type analysis: For example, the Director sees his options as follows: • submit a proposal for revision to the existing system • submit a proposal for development of a new system • submit a proposal for a project to conduct a complete investigation of the Archives’ information requirements and options • forego the opportunity and make alternate plans. • Are there other constructive options he hasn't considered? Do you have to consider all of them in equal detail? • Make and justify appropriate recommendations. • Decide the best way to present the research and its findings in three pages. APPENDICES Appendices to the teaching note may include a bibliography, a glossary of relevant terms or a list of other activities or exercises that might be used to encourage further learning of the subject. Some appendices, such as the bibliography or glossary, may be prepared in such a way that they may be easily reproduced for the students. Example: Comments: Appendix: Bibliography Selected readings relevant to this case study include: The appendices to this teaching note may include references to articles on such Cook, Michael. Archives and the Computer. 2d ed. London, topics as project management or software UK: Butterworth’s, 1986. upgrades. If drawn from a real situation, Cook, Michael. Information Management and Archival the students might be provided the final Data. London, UK: Library Association Publishing, 1993. funding application or similar documents, to see how the situation was Hunt, John, Managing People at Work: A Manager’s Guide in fact resolved. to Behaviour in Organizations. London, UK: Pan, 1981. As with the appendices to the case study Kesner, Richard M. Automation for Archivists and Records itself, these appendices should be Managers: Planning and Implementation. Chicago, IL: prepared with regard for the possible American Library Association, 1984. obsolescence of the case. Bibliographies Menne-Haritz, Angelika, ed. Information Handling in will have to be kept current, for example, particularly if they relate to ever- Offices and Archives. Munich, GER: K.G. Saur, 1993. changing technical issues. They might Penn, I.A., Pennix, G., and Coulson, J. Records include a wide list of readings or only Management Handbook. 2d ed. Aldershot, UK: Gower, those the students would not have 1994. encountered in their usual studies. Robek, Mary F., Brown, Gerald F. and Maedke, Wilmer O. Original documents from real situations Information and Records Management. 3rd ed. Encino, should only be used with the permission CA: Glencoe Publishing Company, 1987. of the originating office; it may be necessary to recreate the documents, Society of American Archivists. Evaluation of Archival along with the case, in fictionalised form Institutions: Services, Principles and Guide to Self Study. if the case is to be used extensively. Chicago, IL: Society of American Archivists, 1982. Wild, Ray, ed. How to Manage. London, UK: Pan, 1982. Yorke, Stephen, ed. Playing for Keeps: Proceedings of an Electronic Records Management Conference Hosted by Australian Archives. Canberra 8-10 November, 1994. Canberra: Australian Archives, 1995. An electronic version of this publication is available on the National Archives of Australia Home Page at URL: http://www.naa.gov.au. SECTION 5 EVALUATING A CASE STUDY After a case study has been used one or more times, it is important to evaluate its suitability. The instructor should ask the following questions: • Were the educational objectives achieved? • Did the discussion remain relevant to the issue or did it transgress into side topics? • Did the students have sufficient detail to consider the case? Too much detail? • Was the case relevant to the work situations students might find themselves in? If not, did it provide a good example of other systems, organizations or cultures? • Did the students find the case stimulating and informative? It is useful to prepare a brief memo or document outlining the use of the case and the discussions generated, for reference the next time it is used. Ideally, the instructor will amend or annotate the teaching notes, adding or changing questions or discussion points, for example. Without such an evaluation of the case study, it can quickly become not just obsolete but, worse, irrelevant. A valuable case study remains current, interesting and challenging. A valuable case study is current, interesting and challenging.

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