Rauner adviser Mischa Fisher talks importance of data in public policy


Hongrui He/The Daily Northwestern

Mischa Fisher speaks at a SESP event about quantitative tools in public policy. He talked about how data can be used to implement programs that help better society.

Charlotte Walsh, Reporter

Mischa Fisher, a senior economist and adviser to Gov. Bruce Rauner, encouraged a crowd of about 40 people on Thursday to try working in the public sector to get the experience of making an impact on people’s lives.

“In public policy, there are some jerks,” Fisher said. “But most people do have good intentions, and hopefully the data will illuminate those.”

Fisher spoke at a School of Education and Social Policy-sponsored event in Annenberg Hall about the importance of data and the scientific method in policy. He specifically discussed the effect data can have when discussing possible strategies to deal with minimum wage, murder rates and unemployment.

A formal federal legislative director, Fisher spoke about the different ways that data can be limited in its ability to solve complicated problems like issues in healthcare. He also explained how different mathematical formulas and algorithms can be applied to legislative issues, while stressing that quantitative tools alone are not a strong enough basis for public policy.

“Don’t let math equations get in the way of core logic,” Fisher said. “There always has to be some sort of core logic to whatever the math is supporting.”

The event was put on in a lecture series sponsored by Nancy and Ray Loeschner (SESP ’57, Graduate School ’62), who attended the talk and were introduced by SESP Dean David Figlio. Ray Loeschner earned both his M.S. and his doctorate from Northwestern, and went on to become president of Olivet College and Ohio Northern University.

SESP junior Sam Buresch, a member of the SESP Leadership and Programming Board that helped lead the event’s marketing, said Fisher was chosen to speak because of his expertise as an employee of the state government.

“We wanted someone that works down in Springfield because that’s what a lot of our students want to do, and a lot of our students are also interested in the connection of social policy and economics,” Buresch said. “So we want to give them the information to help better society.”

Fisher said he wanted to show there can be a connection between quantitative data and government policy. He said the worlds tend to be very separated, but he is “someone who wears both hats.”

Weinberg freshman Mackenzie Smith said she attended the program trying to research possible careers. She said her major, Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences, tends to place a lot of students in the consulting field, and she wanted to see what else was out there.

“It was really interesting to see a different take on a data-related job,” Smith said. “I really enjoy this whole idea that you can gather data and make conclusions and apply that in a way that you’re able to help people.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @charwalsh_