Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Engaged Environmental Science

Apply for exemplar projects that demonstrate excellence in engaged environmental science research (with bursary to develop equitable public partnerships).

You must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for NERC funding.

We welcome:

  • environmental science research responding to both scientific and public needs
  • equitable partnerships with charities and other intermediaries (with bursary of up to £50,000 to involve partners and co-produce proposals)
  • leaders in engaged research

The maximum cost of your project can be up to £800,000. We will fund 80% of the full economic cost, with exceptions.

This is the outline application stage of the funding opportunity.

Who can apply

Before applying for funding, check the following:

Who is eligible to apply

This funding opportunity is open to an inclusive Research Leadership Team which should include both researchers and practitioners and members of the public and public intermediaries. Full information about the inclusion of the Research Leadership Team is detailed in the What we’re looking for section.

Researcher and practitioner principle and co-investigators are subject to NERC eligibility criteria, and can include:

  • early career researchers
  • individuals working across academic disciplines, or fields outside academia
  • interdisciplinary specialists
  • individuals who can demonstrate a capability to collaborate with experts from other disciplines to generate innovative engaged research (your research project must address a significant environmental science question)

Members of the public and public intermediaries and others can be funded as follows:

  • eligible principle and co-investigators from business, third sector, or government bodies that cannot fund their own participation can be costed for at 100% for direct eligible costs (for full details, please see ESRC guidance on the inclusion of UK business, third sector or government body co-investigators on applications), but must not exceed 30% of the overall cost of the grant. For this funding opportunity, this would also include funding for community organisations that cannot fund their own participation
  • project partners: people who will not receive funding directly from the award but will have an integral role in the proposed project. Minor Directly Incurred costs are acceptable, for example to facilitate collaboration
  • subcontractors: people responsible for providing a service only
  • dual Roles: enable the organisation or individual to act as project partner and to be paid non-minor costs to be covered via a subcontract
    • an example of where dual roles might be required is when an organisation or individual is giving to the project in kind but are also funded to deliver other work to the project

Defining the public and public intermediaries

The public refers to any individual or group of people (community) acting in a non-professional capacity. Public communities include:

  • people connected to a place, or with a common identity, interest or practice. For example a local walking group, a gardening club, people with respiratory conditions, students and so on
  • people particularly affected by, with lived experiences of, or close connections to environmental science issues or research

Public engagement may require partnering with intermediary people acting in their professional capacity. These people can be included on the application, but not as ‘the public voice’, unless it is clear they are able to represent a particular community and their needs and views effectively. Public intermediaries can include:

  • people part of public-facing groups, such charities, learned societies, local authorities, local government, commercial companies providing a public service, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and non-profit civil society organisations
  • practitioners able to connect with particular members of the public, such as artists, creatives and research practitioners (in the broadest sense: theatre, music, film, dance, photography, comedy and so on)

It may also be valuable to work with public engagement, impact, evaluation and equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) specialists, and project managers or facilitators

Engagement activities must focus on the UK public and may be located in specific places in the UK. As a secondary audience, applications may plan to engage with audiences internationally.

Who is not eligible to apply

You may be involved in no more than two applications submitted to this funding opportunity. Only one of these can be as principal investigator.

International applicants

We do not fund overseas organisations, except for specific costs for co-investigators from Norway and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). Read more about this in the NERC eligibility guidance for applicants. You should include all other international collaborators as project partners.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

We are committed to achieving equality of opportunity for all funding applicants. We encourage applications from a diverse range of researchers.

We support people to work in a way that suits their personal circumstances. This includes:

  • career breaks
  • support for people with caring responsibilities
  • flexible working
  • alternative working patterns

Find out more about equality, diversity and inclusion at UKRI and NERC’s diversity and inclusion action plan.

What we're looking for

Engaged environmental science: public engagement with environmental science research to move from environmental diagnosis to environmental cure

We are looking to fund three exemplar projects that demonstrate excellence in engaged environmental science research.

The maximum cost of your project can be up to £800,000. We will fund 80% of the full economic cost, with exceptions.

The funded projects will exemplify what an excellent engaged research project that could be funded through NERC discovery or strategic science would look like. Projects will deliver environmental science research outputs and outcomes through the employment of excellent engaged research methodologies and approaches alongside other research and innovation methodologies to deliver quality environmental science outcomes and impacts. Put simply, we wish to see high quality environmental science delivered by including public engagement methodologies, and for the successful teams to show how public engagement enhanced the research, sharing learning with others. It is our ambition that this investment will deliver high-quality engaged research applications that could be eligible across our grant funding opportunities, in line with our strategic ambitions, and afterwards be used to inspire wider uptake of an engaged research model.

Engaged research is conducted with, by and for members of the public and public intermediaries, over any or all stages of a research process, from co-creating research objectives and plans; to collaborating on research delivery to sharing outcomes of research.

Projects will deliver high quality environmental science research that must respond to both:

  • scientific needs within NERC remit, and
  • needs of public and community groups


Projects will:

  • plan, deliver and evaluate engaged environmental science research and innovation that delivers both high quality environmental scientific research outputs and outcomes and high-quality public engagement, to address a significant environmental science question. Alongside robust environmental science plans for delivery, the engaged elements of the proposed project will:
    • demonstrate the benefit of engaged research as an effective environmental science research methodology
    • generate positive change in society, economy, environment and other types of outcomes and impacts
    • exemplify responsible research, for example through listening, collaborating with and responding to members of the public to ensure the research conducted is relevant to different groups of people
  • create or develop relevant, sustainable, and equitable research partnerships and research strategies between members of the public or public intermediaries and research and researchers:
    • all applications shortlisted at outline stage will be provided with a partnership bursary to facilitate co-creation of the full application with partners. Full information about the bursary can be found Partnership and application co-creation bursary details section.
    • please see the section above on “defining the public and public intermediaries” for further guidance on who these partnerships could be built with, for example this could include: specific groups in specific places engaging in research on a specific place-based environmental science research challenge, or; nationally dispersed groups with a stake in a particular environmental challenge, for example a health condition affected by the environment; and many more.
  • foster engaged research leadership in the environmental science community and civil society. Research Leadership Team members will champion and raise the profile of engaged research methodologies as part of a scientific team’s toolkit for delivering impactful, quality research and build the profile and capacity to engage relevant members of the public and public intermediaries
    This may be before, during or at the end of the research and include:

    • championing engaged research methodologies through research leadership with national and international peers in the relevant scientific disciplinary context. For example: sharing learning, experience and outputs of engaged research at high profile environmental science conferences and other networking and professional development fora; bringing awareness of the contribution of engaged research methodologies to research outputs into published articles; other advocacy and leadership with the environmental science community
    • through team professional development. For example coaching and mentoring others in their engaged research practice; encouraging early career researchers in delivering engaged research; supporting professional development and skill sharing in the investigator team, including non-academic partners
    • supporting leadership and capacity building in civil society based on what communities are interested in
    • other support for inspiring and encouraging uptake of engaged research methodologies in the environmental science research community and civil society, including learning from successful models in other research disciplines

Partnership and application co-creation bursary details

All applications successfully shortlisted at outline stage will be provided with a partnership bursary to:

  • create or develop relevant, sustainable, and equitable research partnerships and research strategies between members of the public or public intermediaries and research and researchers
  • test the feasibility of the partnership
  • facilitate co-creation and submission of the full research application with partners

The total fund amount of £300,000 will be split between applicants successfully shortlisted at the outline stage – we anticipate shortlisting between 6 and 12 applications. This opportunity is funded outside of full economic costing rules.

Partnerships can be new or existing. Applications should clearly evidence the mutual benefit to both research and public partners. Public partners should be chosen with clear, evidence-based justification including of the mutual benefit of participation and how this partnership will generate excellent environmental science within the chosen research area.

At the outline application stage, the quality of the proposed partnership and research ideas that address the funding opportunity’s themes are more important than having whole research teams fully identified at the outset. Therefore, applicants may submit applications that do not have all collaborations in place upon submission, provided they demonstrate how they will address this in preparation for the full application stage.

NERC public engagement team will contact applicants successfully shortlisted at the outline stage to detail the process for receiving the bursary.

Examples of appropriate activities for the partnership bursary include:

  • paying for the participation of community partners: including the funding of expenses, time, caring responsibilities, training to build the capacity to take a confident and active role in the research activities; setting up and facilitation of meetings (to encourage listening and dialogue) and so on
  • ensuring that principles and good practice of partnership working are adopted including through building relationships, trust and shared understanding, outlining mutually agreed ways of working, finding shared language and communication and establishing team dynamics
  • evidence gathering, strategic reviews and research needs/impacts assessments
  • planning and hosting meetings to build collaborations, develop research questions and hypotheses, and co-write full applications
  • building appropriate research strategies, methodologies plans and applications
  • Identifying and engaging with the appropriate decision makers and beneficiaries
  • developing the Research Leadership Team and project management procedures
  • developing communication strategies, evaluation and impact plans

Partnership bursaries can fund direct costs incurred which may include, for example:

  • staff resources (including administration and coordination, contributions to salaries). Applicants should consider how to support a healthy working culture when calculating time on the project
  • sub-contracting of services, or enabling public or community partners to take part, if public engagement is not considered part of formal workload planning, time for their involvement can be included
  • non-staff resources including cost of materials, travel and subsistence, meetings and events, consumables, materials and equipment, and evaluation costs
  • the funding of expenses, an honorarium for time, childcare and other costs to allow for participation of those outside of academia such, as public communities, and training to build the capacity of these groups to take a confident and active role in the partnership and research activities

Partnership bursaries cannot fund:

  • estates and indirect costs
  • activity outside the period from 1 November 2023 to 30 April 2024
  • infrastructure or building costs
  • academic courses such as Master’s degrees or PhDs, and other tuition fees

Partnership bursary funds will be transferred to the successful principal investigator’s research organisation, which is:

  • responsible for the dispersion of funds to others
  • responsible for the conduct and administration of the grant
  • accountable for the effective use of public funds, and must therefore ensure that all grant monies are subject to proper financial management processes
  • responsible for ensuring that expenditure on collaborations is subject to robust controls to ensure value for money and propriety
  • ensuring that all costs are fully vouched and maintained for possible inspection and checks by, or on behalf of, UKRI
  • responsible for completing an expenditure statement and returning any unused funds to NERC

Public engagement

  • the definitions which NERC uses as part of this funding opportunity are included in the Related content section
  • applicants must explain the evidence and rationale behind their choices in public engagement, including the members of the public and public intermediaries they are partnering with, the purpose of the engagements, where in the research cycle they are engaging, the engagement methods used and so on. Plans must also reflect the capacities and capabilities of the whole Research Leadership Team
  • public engagement processes used as part of engaged research could include combinations of the following, when they are meaningful and beneficial to all parties: citizen research (including citizen science), collaboration, collaborative research (including co-design, co-creation, co-production), consultation (including citizens jury / panel), encounter, enquiry service, event, exhibition, exhibit, formal and informal learning, network, performance, workshop, writing and so on
  • out of scope approaches include:
    • any one-way engagement methodologies (these can be a small part of a wider research project, but cannot be the sole focus of the engaged research):
      • research on the public as ‘subjects’ (for example participant recruitment, social science research about public engagement); citizen science approaches where data is captured by members of the public but does not bring significant mutual benefit to both research and public
      • science communication
    • partnerships solely between academics or academic institutions
    • public engagement with science in general (not research)
    • tokenistic engagement (engagement without mutual benefit to all parties)
  • this opportunity will inform NERC’s approach to supporting public engagement, and successful applicants must contribute to meetings and collate and share knowledge and learnings about their public engagement practice with NERC and others
  • applicants must plan to evaluate the research project collectively, for example through co-creating and editing a live theory of change with vision and outcomes, evaluating the engagement of the leadership team

Research Leadership Team

Applications must create a Research Leadership Team founded on equitable partnerships with members, in particular with members of the public and public intermediaries, including through:

  • ensuring equity across all the project members with clear and roles and relationships, lines of responsibility and accountability, ways of working and safeguarding practices. applications must be prepared and submitted by the Principal Investigator, but should be co-created with input from all the team and represent the proposed work of the entire group
  • listening, collaborating and responding to needs, challenges and opportunities (with ability to adapt in-line with complex and uncertain situations), reciprocal learning
  • planning in all costs associated with inclusion of the Research Leadership Team are fully justified and planning sufficient time for engagement and partnership activities
  • considering potential issues of intellectual property. Any entitlements should be set out in a formal collaboration agreement, as per UKRI FEC grants: standard terms and conditions of grant, RGC 12
  • creating a clear governance and management plan including information about how this is appropriate to the project, which must be included in the application for the main research project


The duration of:

  • the partnership bursary is six months between November 2023 and April 2024
  • the full award is up to four years and projects must start by 1 October 2024

Funding available

The maximum cost of the main research project can be up to £800,000. The total fund for the main research project is £2.4 million. We will fund 80% of the full economic cost with the following exceptions:

For example, to request the maximum of £800,000 for the main research project, this could be calculated by adding £279,070 (30% of £930,233 at 100% FEC) and £520,930 (70% of £930,233 at 80% FEC).

What we will fund

We will fund:

  • facilities costs

What we will not fund

We will not fund:

  • PhD studentships
  • shiptime and marine equipment

Data management

You must adhere to the NERC data policy.

We will pay the data centre directly for archival and curation services. You will need to fund the costs of preparation of data for archiving by your research team from the grant budget. Outline data management plans are not required at the application stage but will be requested for those projects that are to be funded.

Services and facilities

You can apply to use a service or facility in your funding application.

You should discuss your application with the service or facility at least two months before the funding opportunity’s closing date to:

  • discuss the proposed work in detail
  • receive confirmation that they can provide the services required within the timeframe of the funding

The facility will provide a technical assessment that includes the calculated cost of providing the service. NERC services and facilities must be costed within the limits of the funding.

You should not submit the technical assessment with the application, but you must confirm you have received it.

For more information, go to the ‘additional info’ section, and the NERC research grants and fellowships handbook.

Read the full list of NERC facilities that require a technical assessment.

High performance computing, SME and the large research facilities at Harwell have their own policies for access and costing.

Supporting skills and talent

We encourage you to follow the principles of the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers and the Technician Commitment.

International collaboration

If your application includes international applicants, project partners or collaborators, visit Trusted Research for more information on effective international collaboration.

Responsible research

Through our funding processes, we seek to make a positive contribution to society and the environment. This is not just through research outputs and outcomes but through the way in which research is conducted and facilities managed.

All NERC grant holders are to adopt responsible research practices as set out in the NERC responsible business statement.

Responsible research is defined as reducing harm or enhancing benefit on the environment and society through effective management of research activities and facilities. Specifically, this covers:

  • the natural environment
  • the local community
  • equality, diversity and inclusion

You should consider the responsible research context of your project, not the host institution as a whole. You should take action to enhance your responsible research approach where practical and reasonable.

Research disruption due to COVID-19

We recognise that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major interruptions and disruptions across our communities. We are committed to ensuring that individual applicants and their wider team, including partners and networks, are not penalised for any disruption to their career, such as:

  • breaks and delays
  • disruptive working patterns and conditions
  • the loss of ongoing work
  • role changes that may have been caused by the pandemic

Reviewers and panel members will be advised to consider the unequal impacts that COVID-19 related disruption might have had on the capability to deliver and career development of those individuals included in the application. They will be asked to consider the capability of the applicant and their wider team to deliver the research they are proposing.

Where disruptions have occurred, you can highlight this within your application if you wish, but there is no requirement to detail the specific circumstances that caused the disruption.

How to apply

Outline applications

You must apply using the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system.

You can find advice on completing your application in:

We recommend you start your application early.

Your host organisation will also be able to provide advice and guidance.

Submitting your application

Before starting an application, you will need to log in or create an account in Je-S.

When applying:

  1. Select ‘documents’, then ‘new document’.
  2. Select ‘call search’.
  3. To find the Opportunity, search for: Engaged Environmental Science

This will populate:

  • council: NERC
  • document type: Outline Proposal
  • scheme: NERC Outline
  • call/type/mode: Engaged Environmental Science

Guidance on the sections in Je-S:

  • project details: fill in this section
  • applicants: fill in this section (information may change in the full proposal)
  • objectives: you can base this information on what is in your case for support attachment (taking the 4,000 character limit into account)
  • summary: provide a short summary of your application in the text box
  • resource summary: this section will not be assessed so please put a 0 or 1 in the box to pass any validation
  • case for support and attachments: include your case for support as an attachment

Once you have completed your application, make sure you ‘submit document’.

You can save completed details in Je-S at any time and return to continue your application later.


We must receive your application by Wednesday 20 September 2023 at 4:00pm.

You will not be able to apply after this time. Please leave enough time for your application to pass through your organisation’s Je-S submission route before this date.

You should ensure you are aware of and follow any internal institutional deadlines that may be in place.


Your application must also include the following attachments.

Your outline application should include a case for support (no more than two sides of A4, minimum font size 11 point, Arial or similar, margins at least 2 cm) comprising:

  • initial objectives and anticipated outputs
  • a draft outline of the research proposed describing how it fits NERC’s objectives and approach to engaged research
  • details of the composition and experience of the research leadership team and the approach to developing the partnership

NERC, as part of UKRI, will need to collect some personal information to manage your funding service account and the registration of your funding applications. We will handle personal data in line with UK data protection legislation and manage it securely. For more information, including how to exercise your rights, read our privacy notice

Full applications

If we accept your outline application, we will invite you to submit a full application on the UKRI Funding Service, and more information will become available.

How we will assess your application

Assessment process

We will assess your application using the following process.

There are two stages to this funding opportunity:

  • outline application stage
  • full application stage

Outline applications will be assessed and shortlisted in October 2023 by an assessment panel.


We will invite experts to collectively review your application against the criteria and rank it alongside other applications after which the panel will make a funding recommendation.


We aim to complete the outline and bursary assessment process by October 2023 and the full assessment process by June 2024.


We will provide short feedback to all submitted applications.

We reserve the right to modify the assessment process as needed.

Principles of assessment

UKRI supports the San Francisco declaration on research assessment (DORA) and recognises the relationship between research assessment and research integrity.

Find out about the UKRI Principles of Assessment and Decision Making.

Assessment criteria

Stage 1: Outline stage assessment

Applications will be scored against 1 criterion:

To what extent does your proposed approach to the partnership and the engaged environmental scientific research fit NERC’s objectives for this funding opportunity and our expectations for meeting scientific needs and needs of public and community groups?

Stage 2: Full application assessment

Applicants successfully shortlisted at the outline stage will be invited to submit a full application through the new UKRI Funding Service.

We reserve the right to modify the assessment process as needed.

Portfolio approach

We want to fund a variety of applications to demonstrate what excellent engaged environmental science looks like to exemplify the contribution of public engagement to the excellence of environmental science research. We call this a portfolio approach. As such, alongside recognising the potential of each case for funding, we will be considering:

Contact details

Get help with developing your application

For help on costings and writing your application, please contact your research office. Please also allow enough time for your organisation’s submission process.

Get help with applying through Je-S

Contact the Je-S helpdesk

Ask about this funding Opportunity


Additional info


NERC’s approach to supporting engaged research

NERC has designed this opportunity to help recognise public engagement as a methodology alongside the suite of others that can be used when conducting high-quality environmental science research, including through:

  • providing around six months from the time the main funding opportunity opens to closing date to build equitable partnerships, trust and shared understanding between academic researchers and public and community partners
  • providing bursary funding before the main funding opportunity to develop relevant, durable and equitable research partnerships with public and community partners.
  • providing funding for the involvement of members of the public and public intermediaries, public engagement professionals and other people essential to quality public engagement as project partners or subcontractors
  • require creation of Leadership Teams, which should plan to ensure equity across all the project members
  • require community involvement in relevant parts of research design and delivery
  • communicate what NERC means by defining public, public engagement, engaged research and research so this is clear to assessors
  • require the assessment process to emphasis the value of both high-quality scientific research and public engagement
  • require engaged research be underpinned by a responsible research approach and strong research ethics
  • expect successful principal investigators to contribute to meetings between NERC and other grant holders as a collective (one meeting with all projects) to encourage peer learning and networking.
  • recognise the differences in science that comes with the involvement of those outside of academia or across disciplines, including:
    • methods and approaches
    • outputs, including creation of:
      • products, such as websites, guidelines, toolkits, academic papers (including academic publications in scientific journals and other disciplines (such as Research for All)), software, exhibitions, booklets, artworks, reports, performances
      • networks and relationships, and strengthening and evolution of institutions
      • theories, ideas and concepts
    • outcomes, such as development of confidence, skills, knowledge and understanding, encouraging valuing public engagement approaches, enabling future collaboration
    • impacts differ when derived from different knowledge production modes


  • public and public intermediaries is defined in the Who can apply section
  • public engagement describes the myriad of ways in which the activity and benefits of higher education and research can be shared with the public
  • engagement is by definition a two-way process, involving interaction and listening, with the goal of generating mutual benefit
  • We use the following definition and concept of engaged research: “encompasses the different ways that researchers meaningfully interact with various people over any or all stages of a research process, from issue formulation, the production or co-creation of new knowledge, to knowledge evaluation and dissemination”, including academic knowledge and forms of knowledge or practice held within non-academic communities.

Public engagement and engaged research


Knowledge exchange and impact

Knowledge exchange (KE) is vital to ensure that environmental research has wide benefits for society and should be an integral part of any research. Public engagement is a key part of knowledge exchange, and a route to increasing the impact of research.

A separate Pathways to Impact statement is not required, but applicants should still consider how they will or might achieve impact outside the scientific community and include this as part of their Case for Support. Impact activities do not have to be cost-incurring, but relevant costs can be included and must be fully justified within the Justification of Resources statement.

Reporting requirements

If you are successful in getting funding, you will need to report your research outcomes through a service called Researchfish. This is required annually and continues for up to five years after funding ends. Find out about UKRI reporting requirements

A final report at the end of the partnership stage of projects is required, demonstrating how the research strategy and collaborations developed and any associated outputs. A Final Expenditure Statement will also need to be submitted.

NERC additionally requires reporting and evaluation documents and meetings, details of which will be shared with successful applicants.

Global Talent visa

International researchers and specialists who are named, or have their position listed, on a successful grant may be eligible for the Global Talent Visa.

Our commitment to the principles of the Modern Slavery Act 2015

Modern slavery is a crime and a violation of fundamental human rights. It takes various forms which deprive a person of their liberty in order to exploit them for personal or commercial gain, such as:

  • slavery
  • servitude
  • human trafficking
  • forced and compulsory labour

We are committed to the principles of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and the abolition of modern slavery and human trafficking.

Observing the assessment process for this funding opportunity

Those without formal grant panel experience may apply to digitally attend the full application panel meetings as observers, as a professional development opportunity.

This opportunity is available for researchers, PhD students, and public engagement professionals who support NERC-funded researchers and NERC-funded projects, as part of their professional development.

Terms of observation attendance:

  • attendees must be able and willing to attend an allocated date and set time of panel meeting(s)
  • attendees must adhere to conflict of interest and confidentiality agreements
  • attendees must offer feedback about the process and their experience to inform future funding opportunities

To be eligible for grant panel observation opportunity you must not be named on or be involved in an application for this funding opportunity. In addition, you must not have a conflict of interest with any of the applications being discussed.

To apply for this opportunity please email no later than 4:00pm on 31 March 2024 with no more than 200 words outlining the following:

  • name, job role, institution, and email address
  • why you are unable to access this experience elsewhere in your job role
  • how this will benefit your professional development
  • how this will benefit research projects, public engagement projects, etc. which you work on
  • how you intend to share your learnings from the panel observation with others within your team, organisation, etc

By emailing in your application for this opportunity you agree with the terms outlined above. If you are unable to make the panel date your place will be offered to another interested party

The NERC public engagement team will review the applications, if there are more applications than spaces, NERC will invite individuals who demonstrate the most potential impact in their email statement. NERC will award places ensuring a diversity of job roles and institutions.

Please note that those selected to observation panels won’t attend the full sessions, instead short sections, and panel observers will not be permitted to view the final shortlisting process.

Unsuccessful applicants for this observation opportunity will not receive individual assessment feedback as to why an observation place was not awarded. NERC can provide generic feedback as to the characteristics of successful applications.

Webinar for potential applicants

We held a webinar on 3 July 2023 at 11:30am. This provided more information about the opportunity and a chance to ask questions.

Watch a recording of the webinar

View the webinar slides (PDF, 881KB)



  • 31 July 2023
    Added additional guidance on the sections in the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system in the 'How to apply' section.

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