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Borlaug Global Rust Initiative wins industry award for social network technology

Cornell information specialists received a 2010 Forrester Groundswell Award Nov. 19 for the website, which provides wheat warriors the advantages they need to combat the virulent new diseases of wheat that threaten world food security.

The Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) received the award in the Business-to-Consumer International division in the "Social Impact" category, which was announced at the Forrester Marketing & Strategy Forum EMEA 2010, in London, Nov. 18-19.

"Traveling through Ethiopia with some of the top scientists involved in the fight against wheat rust gave us a unique opportunity to find out what kind of website would be most helpful to communicate scientific data and knowledge quickly and effectively," said Stefan Einarson, director of information technologies for International Programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), who was in London to receive the award. Other members of the Cornell Web communications team involved in the project include John Bakum, Jenny Nelson and Sarah Davidson.

The website that the team developed is used by wheat scientists, agricultural research organizations, policymakers and others who are engaged in combating Ug99 and the other mutant variants of stem rust that threaten the food security of 40 percent of the world's population because they depend on wheat as a staple.

The Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW), which serves as the secretariat for the BGRI, is a four-year, $26.8 million project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that has been systematically reducing the world's vulnerability to rust diseases of wheat since 2008.

Under the leadership of Ronnie Coffman, director of International Programs at CALS, scientists from 17 institutions, including ones in Ethiopia, Kenya, Mexico, Syria, India, Bangladesh and the Philippines, are involved in the DRRW partnership. Scientists from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and advanced research institutes in the United States, Canada, China, South Asia, Australia and South Africa are also involved in the project.

From the beginning, the project presented various communication challenges related to intranets and extranets that the DRRW Web team knew they would have to solve to engage all the project partners.

"We wanted to engage wheat scientists and promote multidimensional engagement," said Nelson, former communications director for the DRRW and an extension associate at Cornell. "We were looking for the ability to mix social, mobile, multichannel and media to make it easier for these high-value scientists to work together."

A combination of Traction TeamPage software and Attivio's Active Intelligence Engine enables the website to be user-friendly and deliver key content to more than 300 researchers daily.

The Traction TeamPage content management system from Traction Software is a social software solution that combines wiki, blog, tagging, activity streams, discussion and social networking capabilities in a secure, scalable Enterprise 2.0 Social Software platform.

Forrester Research Inc. is an independent research company that advises global leaders in business and technology. The Forrester Groundswell Awards, now in their fourth year, recognize excellence in achieving business and organizational goals with social technology applications.

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