PLUTO/PubVal– Public Value Tool


Assessing Public Value: A Tool for Structured Assessment, developed by Seliem El-Sayed & Barbara Prainsack


PLUTO/PubVal is the first iteration of a structured assessment intended to assist data controllers and applicants in determining whether a given data use creates ‘significant public value without posing unacceptable risks’. Within the solidarity-based data governance framework, data uses that create significant public value in this manner ought to be facilitated. The tool consists of 31 questions in four categories: 

1) Information about the applicant

2) Benefits of the applicant’s activity

3) Risks of the applicant‘s activity

4) Institutional safeguards

Most questions require an answer on a nominal scale and reasons for choosing the answers must be provided throughout the tool. The questions are assigned different weights and result in a score that indicates how much public value the intended data use creates. The tool integrates and adapts criteria developed within various relevant frameworks (e.g. the UN Guiding Principles on  Business and Human Rights) and is supplemented with new criteria that emerged during the project. It is tailored towards any institution wanting to assess the public value of its (planned) data use. It can also be relied on by data brokers or government agencies, from whom data is being requested. 

Any attempt to provide a score pertaining to a complex concept such as public value comes with trade-offs. Defining public value and acknowledging the deep value pluralism in contemporary societies as to what type of society is deemed desirable is a core difficulty. Our conception of public value for the purpose of this tool focuses on the sustainability of benefits, the extent to which these benefits  address future societal needs, the distribution of benefits, the nature and severity of (conceivable) harm, the stability of safeguards, that is routine risk assessment prior to and during the deployment of the data use, and the possibility of correcting occurred harm swiftly and effectively.

No single tool can be a sufficient, unambiguous, and stable determination of the public value that data use creates. Nevertheless, when implicit ideas on how such value is constituted are reflected and named, this can be of great help in guiding a structured assessment. While questions may be added or amended; or their weighting may be altered  in the course of future work, this tool serves as a first iteration of assessing public value of data use.