We live in the age of Open Data. Governments, universities and organizations around the world are giving the general public access to data like never before. To what end?

The promise of Open Data is that we’ll come to better understand the world we live in so that we can make better decisions to shape our future. That promise starts with collecting and publishing data about our environment – our climate, our oceans, our communities, our governments, our schools – but it doesn’t end there.

In order for us to progress from accessible to actionable, we need analysis and we need visualization. Perhaps these can be automated to some degree, perhaps there will always need to be a human in the loop. I believe the latter is far more likely in our lifetime.

And so that’s why I’m proud of the data visualization community that I’m a part of. Journalists, researchers, analysts, technologists, designers – people from all of these backgrounds and more are hacking into data sets that shine the light on important topics like global hunger, water sanitation, and the gender gap in education.

To encourage more of this kind of citizen data activism, the Tableau Public team that I’m on has just kicked off a virtual open data hackathon where participants can form dynamic duos, choose their topic of interest – agriculture, climate, education, energy and local government – and get to vizzing. The hackathon starts today (February 17th) and runs until February 23rd. Be sure to register, and don’t worry if you don’t have a partner in mind. The Tableau Public team will be pairing people up if they don’t have a viz partner already.

I can’t wait to see what will come of this activity. The visualizations that these teams will create will help raise awareness to the important topics we need to be discussing. Don’t get me wrong, I love a fun and entertaining viz like anyone else. And not every viz has to be burdened with solving a major social or environmental issue. But we’d be remiss to leave these critical topics out, wouldn’t we? These are the high priority vizzes, and the ones that can deliver a much-needed impact. I’m only speaking for my children and the world we’ll pass on to them.

I’d like to say a special THANKS to Cynthia Andrews for organizing this event, and to Emily Chen, Amanda Patist, Gina Bremer, Corey Jones and Curtis Harris for leading the five respective topic groups. We need leaders for this kind of event, and you all have stepped up.

Now let’s get to vizzing! To track the event’s progress or to get involved in the online conversation, use the hashtag #HackingOpenData.

And thanks for all you do to make the data visualization community a vibrant group to belong to.