Ashley Finger, a 2018 graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law and a participant in this year’s Salzburg Cutler Fellows Program, recently served as rapporteur for the Salzburg Global Seminar. From May 13-15 in Salzburg, Austria, she documented the conference “Mechanics for the Future: How Can Governments Transform Themselves?” The public policy meeting drew high-level representatives from governments around the world.

My primary role as rapporteur to the Salzburg Global Seminar, held earlier this month, was to take detailed notes on the proceedings, which will be synthesized into a final report and published by Salzburg Global Seminar sometime this summer. The report will analyze themes in government innovation based on the panels, workshops and talks.

The experience ended up being much less pen-to-paper and much more engaging than I thought it would be. I got to participate in a policymaking simulation on the use of artificial intelligence in health care decisions, and I was able to meet and engage with public-sector leaders from around the world, often about substantive, global issues.

Representatives came from all over, including Australia, Japan, United Arab Emirates, Portugal, the U.K., France and Finland, to name a few. Participants included secretaries of state, ministers, agency directors and senior advisers.

Everyone was simultaneously incredibly accomplished and down-to-earth with boundless positive energy and enthusiasm for improving their countries and the world.

Finger observes a discussion on decentralization, where various strategies for transitioning power away from a central government were discussed, including possible pitfalls. Photo courtesy Salzburg Global Seminar/Ela Grieshaber

What stood out to me the most about this experience is how it blended together the many facets of my career. As a former physicist (although, the physics community would say there is no such thing as a former physicist, only a physicist who has changed careers), I was able to engage with the technological aspects of the discussions, which allowed for greater understanding of the policy implications.

And as a former intern with the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, I had both working knowledge of the policymaking process and a background in some of the subject areas, such as autonomous vehicles — a field that has developed tremendously since my time on Capitol Hill.

In addition, some of the more unconventional classes I've taken in law school enriched my experience.

Professor Mila Versteeg's Comparative Constitutional Law course proved invaluable in grasping the varied government structures at play in the discussions.

Professor John Norton Moore's seminar, War and Peace: New Thinking About the Causes of War and War Avoidance, gave me a more nuanced perspective on intergovernmental relations.

The conference was organized by Salzburg Global Seminar, an organization based in Salzburg with an office in Washington, D.C., that regularly organizes topical conferences and seminars to share knowledge across governmental entities. Participants discuss both successes and failures in order to learn from one another.

The event was co-hosted by the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court (a center for government innovation and citizen interface in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates) and Apolitical, a journalism organization focused on sharing stories in government innovation.

Finger had time to hike Untersberg, the same mountain you can see from Schloss Leopoldskron.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

Media Contact