‘ELSA Labs for Human Centric Innovation in AI’, an innovation approach for people-oriented AI

Published on: 9 July 2021

On 9 July 2021, the Human Centric AI working group presented the position paper ‘ELSA Labs for Human Centric Innovation in AI‘ at an online event dedicated to the ELSA Labs. Artificial intelligence (AI) is a burgeoning field of technology that is capable of having a huge influence on our society and all elements of the economy. The impact of AI over the coming years will only increase. How do we find the right balance between freedom of action and the functional added value of AI? How can we safeguard public values, our fundamental rights and democratic freedoms? And how do we make sure that everyone can benefit from this progress?

That is why we are looking for ways to learn together with people and discover the best and most desirable AI solutions. A joint approach like this, in which the public can also actively participate may sound logical, but it rarely happens in current AI practice. This was therefore the reason why the NL AIC started working with the concept of ELSA Labs at the end of 2019. ELSA is an acronym referring to Ethical, Legal and Societal Aspects.

Value of the ELSA concept for a joint approach

The position paper explains the background and the value of the ELSA concept for the desired joint approach, in which the general public also participate actively. It also discusses the experiences with the ELSA concept over the past 20 years as well as the practical risks and challenges if a rapid learning curve is to be achieved for deploying the ELSA Labs. 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 people-centred successfully AI in practice:

  • The mission – the purpose of the ELSA Lab – needs to be linked to sustainable development goals and social challenges (the public good).
  • Through a requirement to use key methodologies (contestability).
  • Through a requirement to work with quadruple helix consortiums (co-creation and participatory design).
  • Through a requirement for transparent communication with stakeholders.

What is the aim of the ELSA Labs?

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 Human Centric AI working group of the NL AIC is aiming to create 25 of these ELSA Labs in the period through to 2027.


If you are interested in starting an ELSA Lab after reading the position paper, we would very much like to invite you to read the newsflash about the programme ‘Artificial Intelligence: Human Centric AI for an inclusive society – Towards an ecosystem of trust’. If you have any questions about the ELSA concept, you can also contact Náhani Oosterwijk, coordinator of the Human Centric AI working group.

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