Tool: Critical Shifts

Critical shift statements help to build network alignment by clarifying the changes we hope to see as a result of working together.


There is a human tendency to focus on a problem before asking ourselves what we want to see happen. When we focus on problems — especially complex or complicated ones — we can become bogged down.

One of the most energizing and powerful activities we can do instead is to redirect our focus to the desired outcome instead by asking something like, “And when X ( problem), what do I/we want to have happen?” This important shift in thinking can be liberating. It takes us out of a stuck “problem-space” and moves us into a more creative and possibility-filled opportunity space. Clarifying the gap between the problem being experienced and the outcome we desire can provide useful information and motivation to make a change.

As a network, when we can envision what we collectively and individually want to see happen, we can bring clarity, focus, and creative resourcefulness to our vision. This Critical Shifts activity can help.

The Critical Shifts tool is briefly described on the Co-Creative website as one of several tools that can help us to deepen alignment, commitment, and energy.

A critical shift is a statement that seeks to describe the change we want to see. By coming to an agreement on the critical things we want to see happen when we work together, network leaders can build trust, alignment on the priorities, and reduce conflict. It also helps us identify key measures and behavioral evidence for the outcomes we want to see.

How to Facilitate a Critical Shifts Conversation

  1. Have a group discussion about what you want to see happen in your area of ministry and mission. Aim to build agreement around the vision for this change.
  2. Once you have defined this outcome, create a two-column table on a piece of paper or whiteboard. Label the first column “Goals”; the second column “Status Quo or Current Reality”, and the third column ” Desired Outcome or Desired Reality”.
  3. In the first column, write down your goals or priorities. In the second column, collectively come up with a list of statements that describe the status quo or current reality of the situation. Be as specific as you can.
  4. In the last column, write out a brief, but clear description of what will be different as a result of your network’s collective efforts. How will the world be different? What will you as a network see, hear, feel, and experience differently? How will the communities you are working in experience this shift? What might they or you do differently?
  5. Review these shift statements as a group. Which shifts are a priority for you; For other members of the network? Which shifts are the most important shifts to focus on and prioritize? Are some more long term or short term? Are there shifts you don’t want to see or shifts that are less important to the group?
  6. By building agreement and alignment around the core critical shifts you want to see happen, you are helping the network to focus its efforts and develop a clear sense of alignment. This can, in turn, prevent a lot of the conflict and competition that can sometimes take place within a network when there is a lack of clarity, priority, or agreement on the collective desired outcomes.

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