One of the most important things I have learned this past year is the significance of the ‘so what.’ This may seem like an easy and simple concept, but with my experience working with the nonprofit sector, discerning the ‘so what’ or the purpose of your project, service, program or research is one of the hardest things to nail down. I have been involved in a lot of projects that were amiss from the very start and I could never understand why, but looking back over how they began we did not have a clear purpose…no one asked ‘so what.’
Understanding the ‘so what’ of a project/research/program begins with considering your intentions. Is this research, event, or even a new group you want to form fulfilling an existing gap, or do you have alternative motives? An example of this would be if you have something going on in your life that you want to fix and the way you’re working through the situation is by starting a club. Having a clear and precise purpose, defining your ‘so what,’ will allow you to look at your project/research/program from an objective point of view. If you cannot define the ‘so what’ then you are pursuing a project that will not move your organizations forward. My Qualitative Research Methods professor, Dr. Holly Raffle, would call this ‘me-search’ instead of research. You are looking for a way to justify your actions. I would never want to confuse an individual’s passion or dedication with this idea of me-search. This type of information can be defined by understanding your real intentions.
This idea of the ‘so what’ is especially important when you are working with consultants or professionals who work outside your organization. I worked on a project during the past year where the organization had no idea what they wanted to get out of the work they asked me to do. They handed me a packet of information and assumed that I could determine the purpose not having full understanding of the organization or what has led them to the decision to want this work to be done. The best way to benefit your organization/program/service would be to determine your ‘so what’ and work with your consultant or partner to refine and build a ‘so what’ that will benefit your organization. The lessons I’ve learned from my projects and internships is to over prepare and to think about perspectives other than your own.
I have noticed a huge difference with my work since I have started concentrating on the purpose and asking myself ‘so what.’ I have always understood that all projects need a purpose, but I have begun looking at my work in from a multi-dimensional level. It is not only my point-of-view that matters, and there is always research that needs to be done and taken into account. I am thankful to the Voinovich School and my many wonderful professionals for pulling me outside of my own world and introducing me to the complications of the public sector and teaching to navigate the projects/research/programs that benefit our communities.