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2 PhD Researchers in Public Administration/Philosophy: How Policy-Makers Use Uncertainty Information - An Empirical Study of Civic Epistemologies

Katholieke Universiteit Leuven

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Leuven - Belgium
Funding for: EU Students, International Students, Self-funded Students, UK Students
Funding amount: Not Specified
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 9th September 2020
Closes: 15th October 2020
Reference: BAP-2020-734

As part of a unique interdisciplinary project, the Public Governance Institute (Faculty of Social Sciences) and the Centre for Logic and Philosophy of Science (Institute of Philosophy) are looking for two fully funded PhD candidates.


What is the probability that the stock of reagents for testing corona infection will run out? Or the stocks of surgery masks, ground water during hot summers or gritting salt during winter? And should the government act now in response?

Uncertainty constitutes a major challenge for policy makers to act on scientific evidence, but little is known about the effects of uncertainty communication on evidence use. This project is an interdisciplinary collaboration between scholars in epistemology, public management, and evidence-informed policy making.

We empirically test how the expression of uncertainty and the format of uncertainty communication affect the use of such evidence by policy makers, and how this is moderated by the magnitude of uncertainty. We use cutting-edge research methods, such as eye-tracking and simulations of opinion dynamics,which have only seldom been applied in the context of evidence utilization.These methods enable us to get a fine-grained look into different degrees of evidence use, ranging from visual attention for uncertainty evidence, to actual use in decision-making.

Specific tasks are:

  • Preparing a PhD in Public Administration at the Public Governance Institute (Prof. S. Van de Walle & prof. V. Pattyn) or in Philosophy at the Centre for Logic and Philosophy of Science (Prof. S. Wenmackers);
  • Communicating and coordinating with the other members in the research team;
  • Liaising with public sector organisations for data collection purposes;
  • Designing the research, collecting and analysing data, and communicating about the findings;
  • Writing papers to be submitted to peer-reviewed journals;
  • Participating in the international research community and presenting results at conferences;
  • Communicating about findings to the broader public and to public sector organisations;
  • Occasional involvement in teaching activities, including supervision of exams and master thesis coaching.


We are looking to hire a team that will consist of two PhD candidates. One postdoc will be hired at a later stage in the project.

One PhD candidate has a background (Master, or near completion) in public administration, political science, sociology, or a related discipline. He or she has a wide-ranging knowledge of and affinity with the field of public administration, and a particular interest in evidence-informed policy or performance information use. In addition to an understanding of the latest developments in the field, the candidate must possess good research skills, preferably quantitative and experimental. Training will be provided.

The other PhD candidate has a background (Master, or near completion) in philosophy, with a strong affinity for formal social epistemology and some training in formal methods (such as probability theory and statistics). The candidate must possess strong research skills, particularly suited for the development of agent-based models and simulations for opinion dynamics. Experience with computer programming is a strong asset for this position. Training will be provided to develop these and complementary skills further.

Having distinguished oneself during the studies (equivalent of ‘cum laude’ in the Belgian system) is essential. Proven affinity for empirical research (for the first position) or formal methods (for the second position), as evidenced by your master’s thesis, publications, research plans and other projects is required. You have good communicative and administrative skills, and are able to communicate research to a range of different actors, preferably in multiple languages. You are also open to spending several months abroad for a research stay and for training purposes. One of the two positions will be filled by a PhD candidate who is fluent in Dutch. As this is an interdisciplinary project, affinity with philosophy (if you are applying for the PhD position in public administration) or public administration (if you are applying for the PhD position in philosophy) is also an asset.


A full-time position as PhD researcher (doctoraatsbursaal) for one year, which, upon positive evaluation, will be extended up to four years.

An inspiring and challenging international and academic environment at a leading European research university.

Starting date is late 2020 or early 2021(negotiable).


For more information, please contact prof. dr. Steven Van de Walle (for the first position): or prof. dr.

Sylvia Wenmackers (for the second position):  

You can apply for this job no later than October 15, 2020 via the online application tool. We require a CV, a motivation letter, a writing sample, and the name and contact details of two references (all in English).

You can apply for this job no later than October 15, 2020 via the online application tool :

KU Leuven seeks to foster an environment where all talents can flourish, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, nationality or impairments. If you have any questions relating to accessibility or support, please contact us at

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