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The role of critical friends in supporting institutional change: Developing a collaborative environment

Valerie A. Storey (School of Teaching, Learning & Leadership, University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida, USA)
Brendan Richard (School of Teaching, Learning, and Leadership, University of Central Florida, Winter Park, Florida, USA)

Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education

ISSN: 2050-7003

Article publication date: 14 September 2015




Over the course of three years (2010-2013), the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED; a Consortium of 86 colleges and schools of education) Phase I institutions were involved in the Fund for the Improvement of Secondary Education mixed-methods, multi-case study. Data were collected from Primary Investigators, and stakeholders involved in the (re) design of a professional practice doctorate in education. At the conclusion of the research study, each institution was the recipient of a Critical Friends (CFs) Response Report. The purpose of this paper is to provide insights into the effectiveness of CFs in supporting institutional change by developing a collaborative environment in Higher Education.


First, the role of CFs, and Critical Friend Group (CFG) protocol is described. Second, analyzed data from CF Response Reports is reviewed. Lastly, recommendations for the application of the conceptual framing of CFs within the academy are discussed.


CF Response Reports reflect application of CFG protocol All CF Response Reports contained examples of both positive and cool feedback. This outcome supports previous research (Curry, 2008; Kuh, 2006; Butler et al., 2011) which suggest the protocol structure helped the CFs to focus in order to be supportive and positive. Fewer reports (12) identified institutional and program challenges. This may be a reflection of the dichotomy between friendship and critique which may lead to tension (Swaffield, 2005). A CF may be more likely to articulate a challenge in a face to face meeting knowing that any ensuing tension can be immediately addressed as opposed to stating the issues on paper with no immediate opportunity for the recipient to respond.

Research limitations/implications

Several limitations of the data deserve attention. First, the data did not allow us to explore the relationship between CFs, actual practice, and doctoral program reform. Another limitation of the data are that it emanates from Phase I CPED institutions only. As such, these CFs may not be generally representative. The study would be strengthened if the work could be extended to include institutions from Phase II and III CPED institutions. As the authors continue to develop the understanding of critical friendship in academia the authors can apply this knowledge to support colleagues in their doctoral program reform and redesign.

Practical implications

Based on this study, it is possible to identify several recommendations that are instructive within a Higher Education context. Organizational change and specifically program (re) design is a complex process, and there is no clear certainty of success. Pragmatically, the impetus for utilizing the CF model should be intrinsic, developed by the institutions themselves. Organizational support, knowledge sharing, and communication is required to enable the CF model to be implemented with fidelity (e.g. presentations, and web site information).

Social implications

Faculty may feel vulnerable and lacking in support, but the adoption of a CF model enables them to not only see the institution from a different perspective, but also helps them bring the familiar into a new focus. External institutional support can alleviate faculty vulnerability, enhance faculty resilience to in-house challenges, and facilitate institutional collaboration.


This study suggests that the external advocacy of the CF can positively impact change in the academy, and innovative doctoral program design by first fostering individual resilience to encountered challenges, and second enhancing institutional learning through institutional collaboration.



Storey, V.A. and Richard, B. (2015), "The role of critical friends in supporting institutional change: Developing a collaborative environment", Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education, Vol. 7 No. 2, pp. 412-428.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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