Combating poverty and debt through data science and AI

Important subsidy from the Dutch Ministry of the Interior for ELSA Lab Heerlen at the Brightlands Smart Services Campus

For the establishment and development of the so-called ELSA Lab 'Poverty and Debt' at the Brightlands Smart Services Campus in Heerlen, State Secretary Alexandra van Huffelen (Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, digitalisation) is awarding a significant subsidy. The first tranche amounts to 800,000 euros.

During the national event of the Dutch AI Coalition (NL AIC) yesterday in Utrecht, the State Secretary said that he supports the ELSA Lab and sees it as an example to ultimately improve the services of the government to citizens in financially difficult situations.

Ethical, legal and social aspects

The ELSA Lab wants to use data science and artificial intelligence (AI) to help reduce and prevent poverty and problematic debts. The lab does this by developing solutions in which the ethical, legal and social aspects of the use of digital technology are considered and its opportunities are utilised from the very start. This knowledge of the effects of data sets and algorithms, among other things, is used in the practical and smart implementation of plans and measures. Citizens are also involved.


Within the ELSA Lab, partners work together in a living lab in Heerlen, in cooperation with other municipalities and the VNG. In this way, the results are relevant for the whole of the Netherlands. The consortium includes government organisations, knowledge institutions and other partners. The AI hub Brightlands, with the Brightlands Smart Services Campus as the coordinator, is responsible for coordination. The Brightlands AI hub is one of the seven AI hubs in the Netherlands, and therefore part of the Dutch AI Coalition.

Human size

The state money is allocated from the budget for strengthening the human dimension in government policy, following the advice of the Parliamentary Inquiry Committee on Childcare Benefits. This amount is meant for the start-up and development of the lab in the first six months. New applications may follow for the period thereafter, with the intention of achieving sustainable funding.


AI and data science play a decisive role in our future prosperity and well-being. They therefore make an important contribution to solving social issues and to the growth of our economy.

STATE SECRETARY ALEXANDRA VAN HUFFELEN (Interior and Kingdom Relations, digitisation) yesterday during the NL AIC event: "The ELSA Lab Poverty and Debt project must become a textbook example of securing and strengthening human rights in AI applications: people and their rights are central. These kinds of projects are important because the bar for government must be high."

ASTRID BOEIJEN, CEO Brightlands Smart Services Campus: "We are extremely happy with the grant awarded by the Dutch Ministry of the Interior. This is not only important for our campus, for Limburg and for AI, but especially for the approach to poverty and debt".

KEES VAN DER KLAUW, Coalition Manager NL AIC: "Brightlands' initiative for the ELSA Lab is a good example of how regional initiatives can serve a national interest and how AI hubs contribute to the goals of the Dutch AI Coalition for a human-centred application of AI for social and economic benefit."

EMILE AARTS, President of the Working Group on Human AI, NL AIC: "Poverty and Debt is one of the first ELSA Labs to come to fruition within the NL AIC. It is a beautiful and unique example of how the ELSA concept can be used to tackle a socially very relevant problem, with human-centred AI as a key element. We are therefore delighted with the recognition it now receives from the Ministry of the Interior.

Partners in the ELSA Lab

ELSA is the European abbreviation for ethical, legal and social aspects. The lab is coordinated from Brightlands Smart Services Campus in Heerlen, which is also the core of the Dutch AI Coalition's AI hub Brightlands.

The ELSA Lab is also an initiative of Maastricht University, Open University, Zuyd University of Applied Sciences, TNO, APG, PNA, Accenture, Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, Tax and Customs Administration, Kamphuis Group, DUO, CBS, Kredietbank Limburg, the National Police, Parkstad and the Municipality of Heerlen.

The ELSA Lab is supported by AFM, BKR, ECP, Social Alliance, NIBUD, Schuldenlab, NVB, Wijzer in geldzaken and Women Inc.


Brightlands Smart Services Campus in Heerlen is one of the four Brightlands innovation campuses in Limburg. By combining knowledge and entrepreneurship and working together smartly, various communities provide groundbreaking innovations in the field of circularity, health, food and data.