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ELSA Labs Network event at Wageningen University & Research (WUR)


On the 13th of June, ELSA Lab Defence attended the ELSA Labs Network event at Wageningen University & Research (WUR). This session focused on bringing together the various ELSA Labs to discuss the work we have been doing towards the ELSA Methodology. The day began with various presentations of the ELSA Labs to showcase their latest research. ELSA Lab Defence gave two presentations ourselves on our current work. One presentation focused on the management of our ELSA Lab and aimed to receive insights on how other ELSA Labs are oganised. In the other presentation, we shared one of the methods we are currently looking into for the identification and mitigation of ELSA challenges. We will share more about this as we progress.

After a wonderful tour through the WUR robot labs (see pictures!), the afternoon session had us split into different groups to attend workshops. The workshops were about 1) the ELSA impact, 2) stakeholder engagement, and 3) legal aspects. Below, we share our experiences with the different workshops

Workshop 1: ELSA Impact

Workshop 1 covered the method of identifying ELS aspects in preparation for further substantive analyses. The chair presented one example “four-quadrant” methodology to extract relevant ELSAs from stakeholders in meetings/workshops.

A practical example was given of a cow milking machine able to also detect signs of inflammation using AI, which would enable farmers to act more quickly than if they would wait until the disease is visually apparent. The four-quadrant approach would then prompt stakeholders’ attitudes on different aspects of this AI, e.g. 

(Q1) Personal, tangible: “What do you miss out on when replacing physical contact with your cows with digital twins of them?”

(Q2) Communal, tangible: “What do you think about sharing your cow data with companies?”

(Q3) Communal, intangible: “What impact do these systems have on the broader economic, power, political structures?

(Q4) Personal, intangible: “Would such systems change your views on automation, AI, etc. as a whole?”

Noting all of these down would allow the researcher to generate a list/framework of ELSAs relevant to this AI application.

It was also discussed to what extent ALL stakeholders should be involved, and whether it is more useful to involve some groups only during some phases of the research (e.g. farmers only when a concrete product is available that they can comment on).

Workshop 2: Stakeholder Engagement

In this workshop, we split into two groups to discuss how the different ELSA Labs engage with their stakeholders (i.e. the people who directly or indirectly affect/are affected by AI technologies). We shared the challenges we have run into, as well as our own best practices. Across the two groups, two large challenges were identified. Firstly, the represented ELSA Labs have had difficulty in finding and approaching stakeholders, especially the civilians who may not directly use a technology but may still nonetheless be affected by its implementation. For these people, there needs to be an incentive for them to talk with us, and we brainstormed a bit on how we can incentivise these people. The second, related challenge was that of trust. For stakeholders to want to talk to us, there needs to be a bond of trust. One thing that has become apparent is that certain stakeholder groups may see researchers in academia as belonging to one group or another, e.g. representing industries or government actors. Since ELSA Labs aim precisely to connect different actors and not to take sides, one important aspect for us to tackle when engaging with stakeholders is the idea of creating bonds of trust with them. We must be transparent in our intentions and situate ourselves within the environments that our stakeholders live and exist.

Thankfully, not all is bleak, as we also identified some best practices when engaging with stakeholders. Some of these best practices were starting interactions with stakeholders not with the idea of a technology, but by listening first and foremost to the problems they face. Even though ELSA Labs investigate Artificial Intelligence, we must keep in mind that sometimes AI may not be the best solution to solve a particular problem. A part of the ELSA approach is acknowledging when and when not to use technology as a solution. Finally, a best practice surrounding inclusivity was identified in regards to writing consent forms in simple language (max: B1). This best practice again highlights the importance of establish a bond with stakeholders that acknowledges their experiences and needs.

Workshop 3: Legal Aspects

The workshop revolved around the legal side of the ELSA equation and how to approach the legal issues in particular in relation to what the workshop called “clients”, i.e. the producers/designers of concrete AI applications. In that context, the workshop focused mostly on so-called “ELSA scans”, which are relatively quick, very hands-on assessments of ELS aspects concerning one particular application; it almost amounts to legal advice in the strict sense. The legal scholars in most Labs seem to be dealing with a lot of such tasks. For me, that was yet another indication of how different our Lab is when compared to others, in the sense that we deal much more with a foundational legal and ethical framework instead of concrete use cases, despite analysing case studies (but not finished or developing products).

The rest of the workshop asked participants to state and discuss their greatest challenges when dealing with legal questions within the Lab, as well as best practices to overcome these challenges. Most participants could agree that it was most crucial to remain a distanced and objective observer and arbiter of the legal side; providing concrete advice is most definitely outside the scope of our job description.


Overall, we had a great time at this Network event. A big thank you for ELSA Lab Sustainable Food Systems for hosting it. We look forward to inviting you to our backyard (so to speak) for the next ELSA Network event in 2025. See you then!