Does our blog need a user guide?

Author: 
Peter Alexander - AGIMO
Category: 
The Department of Finance Archive

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Steve Davies, public servant and founder of OzLoop, has sent us a presentation he put together as an example of a user guide for this blog. We’re thrilled with the presentation, both as a guide and as an example of the level of interest and engagement in this blog so far. Using crowdsourcing to harness the enthusiasm and ideas of the community is definitely something we want to get into with this blog, and we think Steve’s contribution is an important step in that direction. We’re also glad that it’s happening so soon after the blog’s launch!

So we warmly thank Steve for his work, which we’re sharing here with his permission:

Steve’s presentation has got us thinking about whether a user guide page should be added to the blog, which I imagine would cover much the same ground as his. We are aware from time to time that we assume things like blogs are easy to use and forget that we do need to assist many people in using them. A user guide could be a great way to explain the workings of things such as the different categories of posts, commenting, moderation, our privacy policy and so on. Something like this could provide valuable encouragement and support to people who are new to blogging. So again, hats off to Steve for his work and for raising an important idea that could lead to this blog becoming easier to use for new visitors. And now we’d like to throw open the floor to your suggestions and ideas about whether we should create a “Getting Started on the AGIMO blog” page. (That probably wouldn’t be its final name!) And of course we’re open to other suggestions you may have about the blog, in comments below or sent to us directly.

Comments (15)

Fantastic work and congratulations to Steve for his assistance. Always happy to have as much support material and a mechanism to help newcomers, espcially a simple "getting started tool".

Great stuff!

Glad to find this page again. I was in the middle of providing comment when it simply vanished.

Here are my thoughts.

It would be great to have a user guide. Some of us are keen but it should not be taken for granted that "getting started" is simply an instinctive process.

For example I would really like to become more involved in the OpenAustralia site, but have to hurdle technical gaps that would take time that I cannot afford to invest at present.

I do not know how to embed links or attach files within the parameters of the site.

Whilst very familiar with techniques in managing my own data offline, this whole blogging experience is only 38 days old for me and I am still exploring the rules and feasibility parameters.

The relationship is of necessity based on "faceless" communication. This is not necessarily a drawback.

But the rules, including with regard to moderation are yet to be tested and explored.

Please see my earlier blog on moderation policies.

My view is that much more is needed to clarify what is acceptable, (for example "non-inflammatory").

People have different thresholds for what is considered inflammatory. The interpretation is nearly always subjective.

I like to call a spade a spade but am never abusive or defamatory.

I should feel free to identify policies that are not working or government agencies or associated incorporated bodies (most believing themselves to be unaccountable) who may not be delivering community expectations.

Always within the parameters of courteous assertiveness, this should be possible to accommodate. Yet discrepant interpretations may lead to moderation.

It take a huge amount of time and effort to engage with Government on the wide range of topics for which community feedback is sought.

It is most discouraging if moderation is applied without explanation after the event.

It would be good to have further more explicit definition of how moderation policies will be applied - see my earlier blog of 7 May.

I am continuing to experiment on various blog sites in attempts to find alternative means of communicating with Government, especially in view of the utterly discouraging experiences that I have faced over a period of several years in going down the formal consultation dialogue process wherein the vast majority of decisions are pre-empted and not governed by a creative and responsive approach to stakeholder needs and expectations.

Whilst prepared to put time and effort into news ways of communicating, I seek better upfront guidance of the rules of play.

I definitely would like direct email feedback if any blog does not meet expected moderation policy guidelines, given the degree of subjectivity involved in interpreting, for example "non-inflammatory" comment and "reasonable comment."

In the past few days, between 5 and 7 May I made some experimental posts on a website previously unknown to me called Lavatus Prodeo.

The topic headings were provocative in themselves. I did not believe that I had exceeded the limits of appropriate blogging behaviour, whilst making sure that my opinions were assertive and direct.

The topic was on privatizaton of assets, withy emphasis on Queensland Govt policies.

This is a topic close to my heart and my concerns are not limited to the Queensland situation. I had hard data available with which to support my concerns.

In certain arenas I have gained some insights and gathered facts - especially in relation to energy and water infrastructure and assurances and warranties made associated with the sale and disaggregation of assets.

In all good faith I believed that I was engaging in the spirit indicated by previous blogs in the same thread, albeit much shorter than mine.

I plunged in with detail and frank comment - but I felt I was polite and on track.

My blogs were published fairly promptly, but from morn to evening these had disappeared.

Brevity may have been the central issue since this is not by strength. No explanation was offered. I accept that those privately running a blog site have absolute and non-negotiable discretion about what will be accepted.

For Government sites seeking deeper engagement and presumably proper feedback about what may not be working, in order to facilitate timely intervention before seemingly irreversible bottlenecks occur in governance and policy matters, there is a need to provide various options for levels of engagement that may not always suit the blogging platform.

Guidelines should indicate what steps may be taken if the material that a stakeholder wishes to provide exceeds the word-count of other parameters that a blog platform cannot accommodate either because of limited cyberspace, or for other technical reasons.

Remembering the deeper goals of Gov2 and the practical implementation of its purpose, I believe there is much that can be done to further clarify the rules and provide also technical guidance for novice bloggers with relatively limited web experience.

In terms of some topical issues on which I seek to provide Government with comment and opinion, perhaps there is room for the detail of these concerns to be addressed some other way - though I do not have the smallest qualm about publishing my views openly against my own name.

In summary, further guidance in the form of "getting started" tips and further clarification of moderation policies would be most welcome.

It is so easy to take for granted what comes naturally to those with technical expertise. Mere mortals like myself have much catching up to effect, usually without guidance and with limited time to tech oneself "how to fish."

Once I exit the merry-go-round of formal consultative dialogue (a treadmill hot easy to climb down from), I will have more time available for the less onerous demands of online blogging with the aim of providing assistance to Government and achieving a meaningful reciprocal dialogue in this era of innovation.

I would like to see theory and practice bridges crossed and the obvious chasms minimized.

So Julie Prater - yes please a user Guide would be great.

Kind regards

Madeleine Kingston

Newcomer

Goodness I seem to have started something here.

It was not my aim to sound arrogant or demanding as a newcomer to the blog scene, but rather to share perspectives about the needs of stakeholders.

But a private citizen (or anyone else or any entity) has to feel comfortable in circumstances where certain risks are taken with privacy, honesty and frank discussion; and that the environment in which "faceless stakeholder" blogging occurs is conducive to continuing dialogue.

Frequently designers of initiatives involving "engagement" tend to overlook the need for reciprocal needs to be met and for reciprocal dialogue to occur beyond superficial exchanges.

When studying marketing theory - a subject that inspired me to read well beyond curriculum requirements - I learnt from a tutor whose inputs I will never forget, that this is (or should be) a consumer-driven society.

My reason for sticking around is that at some level I believe that the theory and practice bridge will one day be crossed and that consumer of citizen-centric philosophies will become a reality.

My reasons for sharing negative experience in the "blogosphere world" include experimentation with the conviction that it is from negative experiences that one learns the most.

Ground rules in any relationship are issues to be negotiated.

If consensus on those rules cannot be achieved; reasonable parties with intact self-esteem may choose to move on and seek greener pastures in which a more meaningful dialogue may be effected.

Relationships, including more distant ones such as those between "faceless bureaucrats" and "faceless stakeholders", are not in essence significantly different from more intimate relationships.

The same basic ingredients of trust, mutual respect; consensus on ground rules; mutual meeting of intrinsic goals and motivation drivers are required.
Whereas in more intimate interpersonal relationship there are additional requirements, the broad principles are about successfully being able to work out a satisfactory compromise - or else walking away.

To our children we tend to suggest that it is a healthy thing to walk away from unworkable relationships that fail to meet mutual needs or that cannot meet acceptable levels of mutual compromise.

How many professional or stakeholder relationships are subjected to the same reasonable criteria?

What do we know really about employee satisfaction and organizational performance?

How can the gaps be closed? Should we be looking for more equal lateral partnerships to replace the historical hierarchical models?

In theory only du8ring my very brief blogging experimentation I have learnt through my blogging experimentation on one arena or another that chunking is better appreciated and that a comprehensive approach is not always either effective or rewarded.

My own target market is not those who want a new idea to with in a few short paragraphs or non-negotiable word-count limits as if dealing with today's news - good for today and gone by tomorrow.

If the target market of AGIMO and related Government bodies is those seeking deeper engagement, the communication platform needs to be more sophisticated; must keep an open mind; must surely not attempt to compartmentalize stakeholders or employees in such a way as to hinder innovative ideas and positive engagement.

These are generalizations not intended to suggest that this is what is occurring.

The whole stakeholder engagement thing
is so new and experimental in the context of current initiatives that citizens and other stakeholder may be forgiven for thinking aloud in a digital space as if the dialogue is occurring in a live focus group engaged in brainstorming.

Hampering the flow of thoughts by making demands such as word count, style and approach and acceptable input, besides the obvious exclusion of abusive, derogatory or off-track material is tantamount to stemming innovative ideas.

In addition, creative thinkers at either advanced or novice stages of information sharing may view rigid rules to be so disabling as to decide to look elsewhere for engagement opportunities - if they exist at all at any effective and deep level.

This is an experimental journey. Let us not spoil what may turn out to be effective partnerships by defining the concept of the blog experience in such a way as to hamper from the outset effective communication.

The 21st century demands a more innovative communication approach.

Work with stakeholders who feel constrained by demands to conform. You will not get the best out of them with an environment hampered by rules - such as strict word counts.

The husband of one of my closest friends with a solid IT background and a career in management has fund a way to get the most out of his staff - by accommodating their idiosyncrasies and demands to work outside the box.

He recognizes for instance, that allowing long lunches for those who don't perform well during certain traditional work hours, are highly effective mid-evening and tend to put in a much longer day than most if their expectations for unusual splits of work-hours are accommodated.

He has learnt to maximize productivity by catering for individual needs.

Can the Gov2 initiative and other arenas learn from such an approach?

I am on a steep learning curve and the jury is still out as to whether I am best suited to the world of "blogging."

But I am happy to share the "stream of consciousness" ideas that occur to me from time to time in the search for a more meaningful and effective

In addition I expect the detail of my concerns to be heeded; the facts that I take the care to gather are considered to be important to assessing market and policy failures.

If the blog space is an inadequate forum in which those details can be posted and assessed - provide me with another way to convey these - but bear in mind that the traditional consultative arena have not worked so far for me or for numerous other stakeholders.

If the blog space for a variety of reasons cannot accommodate the degree of flexibility that many individualistic stakeholders may expect - find a different way of making sure that meaningful exchange of information occurs - including off-line dialogue.

To that end - given my style and approach, I provide my email address for those wishing to dialogue in more depth - and to gather fact and opinion to support the view that reassessment of the whole way of looking at governance and leadership may need to be reassessed.

Oops - I am already beyond the Maginot line for word count etc.

Thank you Peter, Steve and Julie for recognizing what so many forget - help your stakeholders to dialogue more effectively by publishing guidelines that make sure we all start off on the right foot.

I have already had three recent blogging experiences where insufficient guidance led to swift erosion of expectations.

Bloggers come in all shapes and packages. We are not mind-readers. We need to know what to expect from the outset.

A moderation policy that expects 3 paragraphs or a statement of 150 words would not even get me in let alone justify thye time and effort it takes to make public statements that cannot be cancelled olut once committed to the open access blogosphere space.

Kind regards

Madeleine Kingston

mkin2711@bigpond.net.au

Hi Madeleine

Yes you have started something - and it is good that you have. Putting together a guide to ,as it were, show people the mechanics is fine, but I think we need to be creative around 'the principles of engagement'. I am using the word principles deliberately as there is a tendency in the public service to put in place complex rules. Simplicity is the key.

In my experience once you get past around five principles then you loose people. So the challenge is to come up with, say, five common sense principles that we can all live with. For my money one of them should be that people can 'call a spade a spade'. That is really about getting issues and views out in the open so they can be discussed in the first place.

This whole issue links nicely to some work I am doing. So maybe we should put our heads together and come up with some common sense principles that can apply to all of us - whether it be as public servants or citizens.

I suspect what we are really talking about here are some common principles for citizen : public servant engagement so that they can engage with confidence.

You can get me on steve8davies@gmail.com

Cheers - Steve

I have just put a post on the question of a user guide over at OZloop >>> http://apsozloop.ning.com/profiles/blogs/principles-for-citizen-public

And with our friends at Govloop >>> http://www.govloop.com/profiles/blogs/australia-principles-for

Cheers

Steve

Hi Steve

Thank you so much for taking the trouble to respond to my long blog which was also related to an earlier post on the same day on Moderation Policies.

See my blog "Chapter 1 Lesson 1 – Moderation and brevity expectations"

http://agimo.govspace.gov.au/moderation/

I am keen to ensure that there are some straightforward common principles available to stakeholders amongst government, citizens and others alike.

My input of course will be from a citizen's perspective.

Whilst within Government there is a group of colleagues with a sense of solidarity and commitment and support to fall back on - in the case of AGIMO, one's direct colleagues in a setting where blogging experience is not the only means of achieving brainstorming, support and relationship-building.

By contrast the relationship-building parameters in relation to citizen engagement are more restricted and necessarily faceless."

In order to make direct contact with a particular staff from an agency hosting an event this month in Canberra, I am making an interstate trip - to attend a function and to meet those staff that I have not already met.

This is because fostering a relationship with that agency is important to me, not that much is not achievable without face-to-face contact.

The trip will be made as a gesture of support and to try to put faces to names. The opportunities for regular contact face-to-face after that will be few and far between.

The blogging experience is one that I have tried to embrace head on - and I have not restricted this to Govb2, AGIMO or SBR inputs.

The whole thing is at a very experimental stage for me and my experiences outside of Government have been mixed but leaning more towards negative than positive.

Whilst it may not be quite the thing to explore this in depth on this site, I will go as far as saying that I have studied one or two published comments and moderation policies on other sites, and have been left more confused than ever about the parameters allowable and how consistently one can expect these to be applied.

It takes a bit of courage to put oneself out there as a newcomer blogger trying to get things right, but determined to be as open and honest as possible and to provide information in as much depth as it would take to ensure that the deeper goals of Gov2 are at all times being considered, evaluated and re-evaluated.

I fully realize that a blog site may not always provide the options needed, perhaps because of bandwidth space, cost, or other technical reasons.

My preference is always to express my views openly and transparently. On the other hand I am not naturally given to brevity.

My experience of formal consultation processes of several years standing has left me convinced that if minds are closed and decisions pre-empted, it matters little whether when is excessively brief to the point of making ineffective contributions; or whether one is painstaking detailed in providing information to be taken into account in the decision-making processes.

Therefore I am convinced that other factors come into play.

Consistency in applying policies when they are adopted and confirmed is important, and for these reasons, principles are crucial to ensuring that something is in place for guidance.

Nothing should ever be cast in stone. The process of communicating with various publics is a dynamic one. Needs and ongoing experience may require at least annual re-evaluation as to how things are working.

One risk is that those giving freely of their time to engage with Government and other arenas may become jaded, sometimes more quickly than foreseeable. Or a good fit may not be achievable.

In the non-cyber world, it is my understanding that fit ability is such a very important factor in staff selection for example.

One can do brilliantly at an interview and yet be a poor cultural fit.

By the same token if a meaningful long-term relationship with certain stakeholders is envisaged the fit ability factors need to be explored at least in general terms, so that the rules of play, acceptable approaches; opportunities on or offline for more in-depth exploration and information exchange can be enhanced in an environment where misunderstanding, inconsistency in application of policies; and ground rules regarding depth, length or other communication issues can be accommodated in the right way and in a timely manner.

This I see as a chance to seek regular feedback on issues of concern before they become entrenched.

One of the central problems with existing formal consultative fora is narrow terms of reference; short-time frames and sub-optimal opportunities for timely inputs and meaningful dialogue before problems are entrenched and frequently irreversible; and importantly, perceptions of tokenism in the consultative process.

Strategies for making information available to the public generally are likely to be less problematic than creating appropriate opportunities for layered engagement with stakeholders where it is the citizens and non-government parties who wish to provide information.

I do not want to jeopardize my intended long-term engagement with Government, and therefore want the freedom to express my concerns as they crop up.

In some cases, it may be preferable to chat offline - and this is something that has to be worked out and negotiated.

I appreciate your leaving an email address for me to respond to whilst exploring this important issue of ground rules and guidance.

I will take you up on that and see how we go.

Perhaps it would then be sensible to summarize online in this way the essence of issues raised - your style and brevity skills will make it easier for you to do this perhaps, but I would like to explore my thoughts and first impressions with you as a keen stakeholder.

I know from my general experience and the experiences of those of associates that treating stakeholders as individuals and at all times aiming to maximize productive exchange of views and productivity generally takes time and effort.

The process as said before is no different from exploring any other relationship - except that it occurs very publicly and in a sense all parties involved are taking certain risks.

I have borne some of my share of these risks and some of the downsides already in my very brief blogging career to date, so would be happy at least to share with you how these experiences impacted on me -in case these perceptions will assist AGIMO in formulating broad policy guidelines for moderation and feedback.

In my case I have made swift decisions to walk away from certain blog sites because my needs and expectations were never likely to be met; or because I have not felt comfortable for a number of reasons.

For now the most important "take-home" message is that when decisions are made to moderate for whatever reason, policies guarantee direct feedback, off-line if thought best and more tactful so that some certainty can be achieved about where one might avoid moderation in the future.

I have had no negative Gov2 experiences so far, so my comments are not personalized but rather are intended to draw attention to some of the pitfalls that may crop up in the blogging world when many of the parties are connected as digital colleagues with shared goals, but do not have other ways in which to cement a developing relationship.

If all that sounds a bit obscure, it may become clearer when I take up your offer to write to you directly at the email address.

You may reach me directly should you wish

mkin2711@bigpond.net.au

and the same invitation applies to anyone else wishing further discussion on this or other Gov2/AGIMO matters.

Finally it would be good to have an option to be notified by email if any comments are updated.

I used to ask to receive comments by email each time these were updated - even I was the only poster. That processes not only informed me when something on a particular page was updated, but also to helped me manage my offline data more conveniently for future reference.

Kind regards

Madeleine (Kingston)

Citizen Stakeholder

Hi Folks

Looking at some of the comments and considering some of the those made to me by colleagues I am thinking that what such a guide also needs to include are some tips on writing for the blog space. Essentially, the style is more conversational in tone.

I'll work something up and post it for people to provide comments/amendments as soon as my day job let's up.

You might like to ponder this >>> http://www.problogger.net/archives/2005/12/30/tens-tips-for-writing-a-bl...

And to make matters a little more complicated >>>http://www.johncow.com/three-types-of-blog-writing-styles-to-get-you-sta...

One suggestion for the future that might help is the either provide a means for people to upload documents of their own to link to from within their posts. this could prove problematic so maybe consider limiting the size of documents that can be uploaded. 1 megabyte would seem reasonable.

Also, I think be could include some basic html tips for people. For example, tags for bolding text, html to link to a document and open it in a new page. And if we do this then it would make sense for people to be able to preview their posts.

I hope this example works From IT Wire Swannie bankrolls Gov 2.0 Change Program

In the user guide it may be useful for new blog users to be informed on the dangers of publishing your personal email address in the comment section.

Thank you Brad

I always publish my email address in case people wish to follow-up.

It is already in the public domain as I also include it on all my public submissions for the same reasons.

However, I do not post my personal street address and normally request agencies to ensure that this is not made available.

I am aware of spat robots and have encountered a few. These often plant themselves at the original site and then an automated email notification sent out captures my interest and leads me to the site, so that I have found out retrospectively that I am in fact talking to a robot. sometimes this is easy to detect, sometimes not.

Occasionally the first I hear is when I am told by AGIMO staff that I have not been dialoguing with a human.

Harmless spam often needs to be accommodated as inconvenience of being a regular web user.

Other forms of malware with phishing skills or intents are far more dangerous, and despite all vigilance I guess this does occur.

There are tools like MRT, Microsoft Malware Cleaner and others that need to be used daily to ensure vigilance, but there are no guarantees these days as those who wish to hack in will, and have the skills sometimes to stay one step ahead. Look what happened recently with the ANZ bank misuse of social media and what has happened with other misuse of email access and consequent illegal capture of data.

Cyber security issues are big on my agenda as something that I need to feel more confident about whilst undertaking blogging in particular.

I have posted on this earlier today on the Response to Government 2 page.

Thanks for the tip.

Cheers

Madeleine

Hi Madeleine,

For people that are web savvy like yourself, you obviously have a purpose for publishing as you mentioned.

However for newcomers from the small business sector that are new to the blog and forum world, may see this and think that is the correct thing to do without having knowledge of content scraping robots for spam marketing purposes.

Hi Brad

Thanks for your comments - I am sure that others will appreciate warnings of risks before deciding how much about themselves to reveal.

Finally, as we are on a page dealing with a blog guide, perhaps a chapter dedicated to this topic would benefit e3veryone.

My perception of an ideal blog guide goes beyond practical uses and tips, but must address:

1. the heart of engagement strategies,

2. minimalist restrictions for moderation;

3. consideration of how information received by stakeholders should be managed, allowing for he following:

a) complexity,

b) bulk (e.g. attachments by way of documentation)

c) sifting of actionable information;

d) referral to other agencies;

e) identification of policy issues (beyond online communication business) that need coordination and collaboration effort between government departments and other stakeholders.

Participants will have different needs and expectations and not many will necessarily wish to achieve the degree of depth and sophisticated reciprocal communication that reflects my own purpose and needs.

But this should be allowed for in determining blog policy, since at the end of the day, effective intelligence gathering with a view to exchanging real-time information that will better inform policy makers and legislators.

Having got this far with this blog in response to cyber security issues I find that I have digressed onto other topics that perhaps should have been in direct response to the main blog article. I'll get the hang of it eventually!

Cheers

Madeleine

Citize4n Stakeholder

Hi Madeleine

Makes sense to address key aspects of what amounts to personal privacy in a guide. I'll have a look at that when I get the time and send some suggestions to AGIMO.

A fair bit of this - personal privacy/security is about personal practices. Though of course keeping your computer up to date etc is important.

Let me give you one suggestion now. It is always good to have more than one email address. One private (family and friends), another one for blogs you know are reputable and another one public.

Thank you Steve

I agree in principle that more than one email address is often recommended and makes sense.

I tried g-mail addresses for a while for particular purposes but hated the limited scope for offline file management that this provided, even though it was possible to sort.

I also found that when I had loaded the g-mail storage capacity, I had to start a new account and abandon the material in the first account in terms of continuity and keeping the data all together. It also meant creating scores of new filing cabinets or new labels to manage the data.

Perhaps there are more sophisticated file management tools out there compatible with g-mail and the like, but I am used to my own client server and would have to be undue time into re-classifying material that I already have neatly labelled and accessible.

I categorize thousands of categories of data - the hard way without the sophisticated web tools that web librarians and others can access through appropriate software tools.

I found it really cumbersome to deal with my regular client server as well as a g-mail box and in the end abandoned the idea. I cannot be persuaded to return to the g-mail concept and its limitations and be forced to look in two places for data.

There is often topic overlap in what I want to receive.

For example, if scoping for information to inform me of e-practices, I may come across something that is pertinent to a particular topic category managed in my client server space. I was finding that I had to email such material from a g-mail account or similar, to my client server.

The security issues that concern me go a bit beyond risks of content gathering for harmless marketing issues. I tolerate and deal with spam initiated in such a way.

There are more serous threats than that, including phishing and intrusion for other purposes.

Can't stop to detail these concerns, but certainly there is room to clarify in a simple guide some do's and don'ts.

My software security system service provider has provided some tips but has also identified practices today that are reprehensible and go well beyond the more harmless types of int5rusion.

Thanks for including this topic as an important one.

I remain a web novice and my blogging days are barely7 over two months old. Whilst I have been using the Internet for years, I have not been party to an open blogging scene, but rather in secure password type e-discussion groups which have never placed me at the smallest risk.

I am religious about malware checking using more than one checker, and subscribing also to regular updates for those that I subscribe to.

I also have privacy settings to delete history of temporary files, web files and other data history every few minutes.

For all of that it is still possible for one's security system to be put at risk, partially disabled or otherwise tampered with.

Not all intrusions are harmless exercises in seeking marketing opportunities. It is the more sinister types that I am concerned about.

Please see my blog of yesterday in response to yours on Response to Gov2, which deals with cyber security and also other moderation and engagement issues, including the issue of training robot moderators in manners and courtesy!

Cheers

Madeleine

PS Read about the exciting un-conference that you attended. Everyone must have had a real buzz out of that. Program sounded fascinating.

We've just uploaded a new page to the blog - New to the AGIMO blog?
Have a look, we'd welcome your feedback.

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Last updated: 27 July 2016