DePaul University Newsline > Sections > Campus and Community > 3D virtual tour aims to increase harm reduction efforts in U.S., wins DePaul’s Innovation Award

3D virtual tour aims to increase harm reduction efforts in U.S., wins DePaul’s Innovation Award

Greg Scott in Lincoln Park
(DePaul University/Jeff Carrion)

Illicit drug use in the United States continues to be a reality that indiscriminately ruins lives and strains entire communities. There are many policies, practices and philosophies designed to reduce drug-related harms, and one such practice is supervised-drug-injection sites. These offer not only a place but also guidance on how to inject drugs more hygienically to avoid the spread of viral and bacterial infection.

DePaul University faculty member Greg Scott, a professor in the Department of Sociology and an expert in harm reduction, recently released a 3D film about one such supervised-drug-injection site, or SIF. The film, “Somewhere Safe: A Multimodal Presentation of a Safer Drug Consumption Site,” is an effort to document the SIF for others who want to establish something similar in their community.

"What I felt we needed was a virtual-visit option for the site, for people who wanted to visit but couldn’t, or to offer a tour option without burdening the site’s staff,” Scott says. “I secured funding from Arnold Ventures, a major, Texas-based philanthropy started by John and Laura Arnold, to create a 3D immersive experience of the SIF. The film lets anyone in the world strap on a virtual reality headset and 'drop in' to the facility to see how it works and meet some of the people who staff it and some of the clients who use it."

The virtual reality visit provides a semi-guided tour that offers a balance of unstructured immersion and guided discovery.

Scott has been working for the past 22 years in the field of harm reduction, and this effort has been in the making for 15 years, with a number of 2D films as predecessors to this one. He faced both conceptual and technological challenges using the 3D technology.

“I essentially had to unlearn the tried and tested concepts and techniques of conventional documentary storytelling, while also figuring out how to impose a bit of narrative structure on a non-linear technology,” he says.

His innovative approach to this societal problem was recently recognized at DePaul’s Innovation Day 2023 with the DePaul Innovation Award. He was selected from among 26 presenters at the Innovation Showcase who demonstrated how their work is meeting industry and societal needs.

In the end, Scott says, he accomplished what he set out to do with the project. “We used a very sophisticated and expensive audio-visual platform to create a virtual reality experience whose main point is that ‘there’s nothing much to see here,’” he adds. “By this I mean that most people who hear 'supervised injection facility' conjure a good many mental images that are dramatic and inaccurate at best and prejudicial and stigmatizing at worst.”

The end product is an immersive experience that most viewers find rather ordinary yet remarkable.

“The Somewhere SIF is a place where people who use drugs take care of each other in rather mundane ways, yet the mundanity of their care is exactly what results in the saving of lives,” Scott says.

If you missed Innovation Day 2023, check out this video highlighting what innovation means at DePaul, or view the session recordings from the day in the Innovation Day blog.