Truth and Democratic Legitimacy: a philosophical assessment of the Scottish collaborative approach to policy-making

This is an exceptional opportunity for a strong PhD student to make an important philosophical contribution to understanding of the relationship between truth pluralism, democratic legitimacy, and the assessment of public services – resulting in a practical contribution to public sector audit.

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Deadline for the current round of applications has passed. We're waiting on funding confirmation for the next round.
(Interviews will be held on Tuesday 21st May 2024)

The Universities of Stirling and St Andrews, in partnership with Audit Scotland, are pleased to announce the availability of a fully funded Collaborative Doctoral Award studentship from 1 October 2024 under the AHRC’s Collaborative Doctoral Award Scheme. This is an exceptional opportunity for a strong PhD student to make an important philosophical contribution to understanding of the relationship between truth pluralism, democratic legitimacy, and the assessment of public services – resulting in a practical contribution to public sector audit.

The award is available on a full-time basis for a period of 3 years and 6 months, from 1 October 2024 until 31 March 2028. It includes an annual stipend of approximately £19,600 (precise amount to be confirmed by SGSAH). The award pays tuition fees up to the value of the full-time home UKRI rate for PhD degrees. Fee waivers may be available for international students and will be confirmed at the point of award. The successful applicant may also apply for additional funding directly from SGSAH to attend conferences and undertake skills development.

The successful applicant will benefit from:

  • The full range of activities and support provided by the St Andrews-Stirling joint graduate programme in Philosophy, one of the highest-ranked programmes in the UK, offering an engaged and committed cohort of doctoral researchers.
  • Work with and support from Audit Scotland, the independent public body responsible for auditing most of Scotland's public organisations.
  • Doctoral supervision offered by highly experienced leaders in the field: Crispin Wright, Rowan Cruft and (from Audit Scotland) Antony Clark.
  • Access to advanced inter/disciplinary training for SGSAH’s doctoral researchers through its innovative Discipline+ Catalysts.

Scottish policy-making engages collaboratively with citizens’ lived experience. Audit Scotland assesses the success of this approach and contributes to it by providing audit reports informing citizens about policy/service effectiveness. Collaborative approaches to policy-making involve difficult decisions about how to assess users’ claims (some evaluative, some empirical, some about personal experience, some about principle). In responding, auditors and policy-makers need to decide (a) what sort of thing would count as a true claim in the relevant domain, and (b) what response would serve democratic legitimacy. The student’s project will address these philosophical questions, helping auditors respond appropriately to users’ diverse claims.

Key philosophical questions are:

(a) How can truth pluralism inform public audit?

(b) What conception of the Scottish approach to policy-making – of community empowerment and respect for lived experience – best serves democratic legitimacy?

We recognise that the student appointed may wish to take the project in their own direction, and we will support them in doing so, consistent with Audit Scotland’s needs.

Truth and Democratic Legitimacy: a philosophical assessment of the Scottish collaborative approach to policy-making.

The ‘Scottish approach’ to policymaking is:

  • to seek improvement in public services via collaborative government
  • to focus on people’s ‘assets’ (rather than ‘deficits’) when designing policy; and
  • to co-produce policy with the public sector, stakeholders, and service users.

The Scottish Government is committed to community empowerment to rebalance the relationship between public bodies (councils, the NHS, police/fire departments) and the people/communities who rely on public services. Public sector performance based on these principles is governed by the National Performance Framework. Public audit assesses whether public bodies and policies achieve their aims, meet the public’s needs and represent value for money. Increasingly that means assessing evidence from citizens on their experiences of public services.

The proposed project offers a philosophical assessment of two aspects of the Scottish approach to policy-making, encapsulated in two research questions:

  • How can truth pluralism inform public audit?

In assessing whether a policy or service furthers community empowerment and is responsive to lived experience, auditors often find themselves facing diverse conflicting views, both among service users and between users and other groups (e.g. experts, administrators). Auditors rely on service users’ views concerning many aspects of public service: from numerical questions about the number of times a service has been available (e.g. a bus or a hospital bed) to complex evaluative questions about the users’ views of service quality. Diverse, conflicting assessments of the service often reflect differences in the target proposition to which service users assent: e.g. “This is available when I try to use it”; “This is a good service”; “This meets my needs”; “This is value for money”. Faced with diverse user responses, auditors can find themselves confronted with seemingly conflicting or directionless evidence, and this sometimes appears to involve not simply disagreement about a service’s quality, but rival conceptions of what might count as truth about that service’s quality. This is seen in relation to NHS performance where key measures of success for audit purposes have focused on activity levels and NHS Boards’ financial health, not on patients’ experience. Similarly, national reporting on police performance arguably fails to get to the heart of local communities’ experiences of crime and safety.

The research project will examine these difficulties, drawing on philosophical truth pluralism, a view recently emerging in analytical philosophy. It contends that while the word “true” as a predicate of judgements is not ambiguous, what qualifies as the truth of a judgement varies for different domains, so that e.g. truth about the location of physical objects is constituted differently from truth in mathematics (which is arguably a matter of what admits of mathematical proof) or truth in ethics (which might be argued to be what an impartial, rational person would want). A rough analogy is with winning in competitive games: “win” is not ambiguous but what constitutes winning varies in chess, football, tennis. Given any particular audit exercise, analytical clarity in advance about what propositions the audit should be assessing, and what is best evidence for their truth or falsehood, may help auditors make sense of seemingly conflicting evidence drawn from the experience of those affected by a policy. This may be accomplished in part by clearly separating the various propositions – ethical, social scientific, economic – that a complex policy encompasses, and paying heed (i) to the best conception of the relationship between their truth or falsity and the opinions of those audited, on the one hand, and, on the other, (ii) to how their truth or falsity should bear on an overall judgement concerning the success of the policy which the audit is assessing.

  • What conception of the Scottish approach to policy-making – of community empowerment, respect for lived experience, accountability to ‘national outcomes’ – best serves democratic legitimacy?

Community empowerment and respect for lived experience are justifiable both for improving the quality of public services by making them more responsive to users, and for improving their democratic legitimacy by giving users more involvement in their construction. These two aspects of community empowerment reflect the distinction between users as consumers (reporting on the quality of what they consume) and as agents (participating in the construction of the policies by which they will live).

The second strand of our research project will build on the first by examining how these two aspects of community empowerment relate to each other in such a way as to contribute to the legitimacy of policies under the ‘Scottish approach’. Philosophers define political legitimacy as ‘the moral permissibility of the state’s issuing and enforcing its commands owing to the process by which they were produced’ (Estlund). Accountability to citizens is central to any democratic theory of legitimacy. The research project will examine how audit can facilitate accountability, how policy-making responsive to community empowerment does the same, and how both complement accountability via the ballot box.

The two project strands intersect closely: legitimacy depends on responsiveness to citizens’ good judgement about which policy to pursue, which itself depends on citizens’ and auditors’ understanding of the truth about matters to which the policy pertains. The role of audit in informing citizens and policy professionals and the role of citizens and professionals in informing audit, are both central to the legitimacy-conferring benefits of the ‘Scottish approach’ to policymaking, and both depend on prior questions about truth as outlined in the project’s first strand.

Overall the project aims to generate knowledge exchange both informally through interactions between the student, supervisors and colleagues at Audit Scotland and on the SASP programme, and formally through written materials and presentations prepared to guide auditors and policy-makers on embedding experience/community empowerment in policy-making and public service design. Methods underpinning knowledge exchange will include philosophical argument, case study research, and examples of good practice. For Audit Scotland this includes a focus on audit methodologies, and staff training/development. Given the increasingly international nature of the commitment to embedding lived experience in performance audit, the research will inform how public audit can be developed in ways compliant with International Organisation of Supreme Auditing Institutions (INTOSAI) performance auditing standards.

Eligibility and availability

This studentship is open to both Home and International applicants. We welcome applications from students who identify with any of the Protected Characteristics, such as race/ethnicity, disability or sexual orientation. If you have a disability you may be entitled to a Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) on top of your studentship.

Applicants should have an excellent academic record at undergraduate level in Philosophy. They should have or expect to receive a relevant Master’s-level qualification and meet the PhD English Language entry requirement (if applicable). We will also consider applicants with degrees in related disciplines (e.g. Politics, Law, Economics), if they can demonstrate appropriate Philosophical ability relevant to the project. 

As the holder of a collaborative award, the student will be expected to spend time at both the Universities of Stirling and St Andrews, and at Audit Scotland’s offices in Edinburgh.

Please note: All applicants must meet UKRI terms and conditions for funding. 

How to apply

Applicants will be assessed on their academic record and research potential. Informal enquiries may be addressed to Rowan Cruft at and/or to Crispin Wright at  

To apply, please send the documents below in a PDF format to Professor Cruft at

  • A 2-page CV.
  • A 1-2 page cover letter outlining why you are interested in the project.
  • A writing sample of c. 2500 words (e.g. an extract from a Masters dissertation or essay)
  • Copies of two academic references, which are on letter-headed paper, signed and dated within the last 12 months.

The university partners and Audit Scotland will jointly assess the applications, hold interviews, and then invite the successful candidate to formally apply through the regular PhD procedure. 

The deadline for applications to be submitted to Prof. Cruft is 10 May 2024 and interviews will be held on Tuesday 21st May 2024.