foundation or basis: He laid the groundwork for an international conference.

1540–50; ground1 + work Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
groundwork (ˈɡraʊndˌwɜːk)
1.  preliminary work as a foundation or basis
2.  the ground or background of a painting, etc

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
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Example sentences
Penance, charity, and humility he laid down for the groundwork and basis of his
In other words, these areas may not have had the functions they do in modern
  humans, but the changes were laying the groundwork.
However, laying that groundwork will take more than text mining, and certainly
  more than the subset of textual materials on offer.
The phonetic groundwork of a language, however, is only one of the features
  that give its literature a certain direction.
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