ELSA concept

The massive impact of artificial intelligence (AI) as a system technology on people and society comes with a very special responsibility. That is why the Human Centric AI working group is leading the search for ways of learning and discovering, alongside with people what the best and most desirable AI solutions are. A joint approach like this, in which the public can also actively participate, may sound logical but it rarely happens in current AI practice.

The Netherlands AI Coalition (NL AIC) wants to fulfil that leading role by encouraging the development of ELSA labs and helping to structure them. What the ELSA concept entails, the challenges involved and the way for all parties in the quadruple helix (government, industry, science and residents of the Netherlands) to tackle it are described in the manifesto entitled ‘Human-Centric Artificial Intelligence: A call for sensible and responsible applications’ (in Dutch).

ELSA stands for Ethical, Legal and Societal Aspects. This great collection of disciplines is a good foundation for developing labs on. The position paper ‘ELSA Labs for Human Centric Innovation in AI’ explains the background and the value of the ELSA concept for the desired joint approach, in which the general public also participate actively. It discusses experiences with the ELSA concept over the past twenty years as well as the practical risks and challenges if a rapid learning curve is to be achieved for deploying the ELSA Labs.

The ELSA Labs are not a new concept, but the same cannot be said of the specific approach devised by the NL AIC. Within the quadruple helix model, consortiums of different institutions collaborate in the co-creation process. These include not only scientists but also the governmental authorities, industry, social partners, knowledge institutions and above all the residents of the Netherlands. Although co-creation has a longer history, applying it to digital developments such as AI and data is an innovative development.

Pragmatic approach

It also explains how the principles of ‘AI for good, co-creation, contestability by design’ and transparency are the cornerstones of seven criteria that an ELSA Lab must meet if it is to implement human centric AI successfully in practice: This pragmatic approach provides sturdy foundations not only for talking ethically about AI but also for making sure it is ethical in practice.

Purpose of the ELSA Labs

The aim is to ensure that companies, governmental authorities, centres of expertise, civil society organisations and the general public develop responsible applications of AI jointly. This involves solutions for both social and business problems, focusing on honesty, fairness, security and (above all) trustworthiness. The approach addresses human values as well as public values.


All the stakeholders are involved in developing human centric AI with clear ethical and legal frameworks and helpful regulations within the European context so that the socioeconomic impact of AI becomes manageable and people will be confident about how it works. The Human Centric AI working group is aiming to create thirty of these ELSA Labs in the period through to 2027. In January 2022, after review by an independent evaluation committee from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), the first five labs from the Dutch National Research Agenda call ‘Human-Centric AI for an inclusive society: Towards an ecosystem of trust’ were awarded funding.

The NL AIC label

The coalition has developed the NL AIC Label to underline its vision on the development and application of AI in the Netherlands. An NL AIC Label formally recognises an activity that is in line with the aims and strategic goals of the NL AIC and/or the quality of that activity. The NL AIC Label has now been awarded to 17 ELSA Labs. We will continue to expand our portfolio with new ELSA Labs in the future. Would you like more information about the goals and approach per ELSA Lab, please click on the specific ELSA Lab. This overview will be updated regularly.


If you are interested in the ELSA concept and its implementation as an ELSA Lab, we would very much like to invite you to read the position paper called ‘ELSA Labs for Human Centric Innovation in AI’ that outlines the approach. If you have any questions about the ELSA concept and the possibilities of starting up an ELSA Lab, please contact Náhani Oosterwijk, the coordinator of the Human Centric AI working group.

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