The core business of DRNS is to bring together the people who operate in the substance-use corner of the research world. I’m sure we’d all agree that it’s such an important field we work in, and with drug-related deaths in Scotland still on the rise, the stakes have never been higher. At DRNS, we believe that we work better when we are connected as a community who share the same ambitions, but when everybody is busy, time is short, and demands are increasing, building networks can be challenging at the best of times. The DRNS was conceived as a way to make networking easier. We wanted to find a way to pull together everybody with an interest in the field, be they academic, practitioner, policymaker, or individual living with substance use in their own or their loved one’s life. We aimed to dismantle the barriers and connect silos. Our results speak for themselves. To date we have welcomed many people from a variety of lived experience, academic and third sector backgrounds to our events, meetings and workshops, and we’re looking forward to our upcoming conference in May. We’ve also supported a variety of research studies and helped numerous individuals and organisations to come together. We intend to continue this important work.
When we started this network in 2017, however, we couldn’t possibly have known that a worldwide pandemic was coming, two years down the line. COVID-19 impacted every area of everybody’s life. More than ever, connection with other people was challenging. For DRNS, there were to be no more in-person events, no chatting informally and making surprising connections with a stranger at a conference, and no sitting around tables wrestling with ideas for a fledgling study. Like most, we moved as much of our business online as we could.
As I write there is a cautious note of optimism regarding the waiving of the restrictions that the pandemic wrought, but as we survey the tremendous human cost, there has been a silver lining in this dark COVID cloud. In general, COVID has made us reassess our priorities and our ways of working. We are less likely to say, ‘we can’t’, and more inclined to say, ‘how can we…?’ While in-person working would always be useful, there were some advantages, we discovered, to working online. Web-based events, sessions, meetings, and training were more inclusive because they enabled more people to attend, wherever they were globally, whatever their ability to finance travel and accommodation, however tight their diaries were, and however comfortable they were in large social groups.
The benefits of online life encouraged us to link in with Jump, who have helped us to redesign our website and consider how it can be an integral part of what we do, post-COVID. We hope you enjoy the new website. We have tried to make it welcoming, informative and attractive. We wanted to inspire people to join the network, work together, be in touch, and be engaged with others working to the same ends. There are ongoing plans for the website, but, in truth, we love that fact that we are always learning, developing, and adapting to what people need. Just like everything we do at DRNS, we are happy to evolve the website to reflect your interests and needs, so get in touch if there’s something you think should be there, or something you believe should be changed.
Like the best BOGOF deal, the website isn’t the only new online offering we have. We have worked with the team at Tecbyte to create a new intranet space. The members-only intranet is the industrious companion to the new website. With membership free, the intranet is designed to be a place where people connect, talk, and share information. It is meant to be the antidote to the loneliness of homeworking and the challenges of working across organisations. We are developing the intranet so that is a place where your project team can share information or discuss thorny problems on a project-specific forum to which only you and your team have access. We will store files relating to our past events/training and set up event/training-specific forums so that you can continue the conversations long after the zoom call has ended. We know how hard it is for Early Career Researchers to network, especially when institutions have moved to blended working, and when conferences, even if they are running, are still beyond their purse. The intranet offers DRNS the potential to create a place where Early Career Researchers can congregate across institutional divides. These are only a few of the opportunities we are currently working on for the intranet. Some of those opportunities even we don’t quite recognise, but we’re sure you will. If you are a member, this is your space to develop as you see fit. If there’s something you think you could use it for, ask, and we will see if we can do it.
The Team @ DRNS are excited to be delivering our refreshed online presence into the post-pandemic world. We hope you will engage with it, tells us what you think, and be part of this community of people who make substance use research a part of their working day.