Attending VizForSocialGood Hackathon - what is it and why is it worth going to

by Hanna Nykowska

Hey everyone, last week at our office we had a VizForSocialGood Hackathon run by Sasha of The Information Lab. Having taken part in the whole thing, I decided to share my experience and hopefully encourage more people to attend those events.

What is Viz For Social Good?

The main goal of participating in this initiative is to raise awareness of various social issues and help non-profit organisations by creating data visualisations. When a new data viz project is launched by a non-profit, the volunteers are informed via emails (you can become a volunteer here). As a volunteer, you can join either a virtual or in-person hackathon (or maybe even just work on your viz by yourself). To submit your design, share your work on Twitter with hashtag #vizforsocialgood. From there the non-profit can choose from submissions to include them in their content.

What is the hackathon like?

First of all, it’s short. The one I took part in was 10:00-12:30 with less than 2h for actual work. I think it’s a good amount of time. I didn’t aim to finish my project within this time but rather fully commit to coming up with a plan and finishing as much as I could. If you want to keep your work small, you can definitely get something decent done within that time and still have the rest of the day to yourself.

We started with some introductions and started working on our vizzes at 10:30. We had time until 12:15 when a few people shared their work. Afterwards, there was some time for networking which you can also do during the work as well. Throughout the event, there was also support from Sasha, Laine, Benedetta and Sophie from The Information Lab.

Who comes to these events?

There were a few people working in analytics but also a few people who were new to data visualisation and Tableau. By the way, you don’t have to use Tableau to be a volunteer. Number-wise, there were about 15 of us, so not overwhelming at all.

Do I have to present my work?

In short, no. However, I’d encourage you to do so. I started the presentations with my incomplete dashboard, I didn’t even have all the charts I wanted to build. Presenting your work will help you build your own confidence and show others alternative approaches to the same data. It will also encourage other people to do the same.

When do I have to finish the viz by?

To actually take part, you need to submit your design (share it on Twitter with #vizforsocialgood) by the end of the project. This deadline depends on the project itself. In our case, it was 15th of March so almost a full week after the hackathon.

My submission

So what did I actually submit? Check it out below or here. The project itself was exploring gender inequality and the influence of indoor air pollution due to the usage of fossil fuels for cooking. In my analysis, I focused on the household air pollution – why is it important, are clean fuels (electricity and gas) used where accessible and what is the access to clean technology:

By the end of hackathon, I only had two first charts without any annotations or titles and with default formatting. You can see that I did quite a lot of work after the hackathon. Why did I only have two charts after almost two hours? Well, the data we were given was quite big. There were many indicators that would tell a different story so it took me a long time to familiarise myself with the data and find a story I wanted to explore.

We were provided with a photo that we could use. Originally, I thought I might use it (I’ve never added a photo to my dashboard and was considering experimenting a bit). I got my colour palette from the photo itself and decided to try a darker background. I was trying to add the photo to the viz but it wasn’t really working for me and adding a photo to social-related vizzes seems like a cheap move sometimes…

You can see on my original tweet that I had darker font as well. I had various feedback on that but finally decided to change it to a light option. I ran my viz with my cohortians and some other people to help me make some decisions and sense-check my design choices as well. Thanks friends!

So why is the VizForSocialGood hackathon worth going to?

  1. It’s an opportunity to put your data visualisation skills to test (or maybe just try your hand at data visualisation)
  2. You get to help non-profit organisations that do their best to help people
  3. It’s a chance to meet other people interested in data visualisation and network
  4. It’s short so you don’t have to commit a lot of your free time
  5. You can learn something new (whether about the tools you’re using or the topic you’re dealing with)

I guess there might be more reasons to go, but for me, the first two summarise the whole idea of this initiative.

Thanks for reading, byeeee!


Hanna Nykowska

Fri 24 May 2019

Thu 23 May 2019