External Conversations: An unexpected discovery about the critical friend in action research inquiries

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56 Scopus citations


This article is a scholarly reflection of a novice researcher conducting an action research investigation as a professional developer working with a group of elementary teachers. By the third analysis cycle, the researcher-practitioner became overwhelmed due to the amount and variety of qualitative data, and to the additional complexities caused when situational context needed to be considered. When the researcher sought council from a colleague outside the research event, a new function emerged called External Conversations, based on a common action research procedure, the critical friend. The critical friend had knowledge and experiences in common with the professional developer, but did not have exposure to the action research setting. Because of the critical friend's lack of contextual understanding, collaborative dialogue to make sense of the data increased the researcher's ability to see the data within context. The External Conversation strengthened the data analysis because it addressed three dilemmas of action researchers in the field of education as identified by the literature and experienced in practice: isolation, accounting for tacit knowledge, and data overload. Although this process was time consuming, using an External Conversation within an action research investigation may strengthen a study, and could be especially supportive for novice researchers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)135-152
Number of pages18
JournalAction Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2010


  • Action research dilemma
  • Collaborative inquiry
  • Critical friend
  • Dialogue
  • Education
  • Qualitative research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Strategy and Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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