In a bid to spur inclusive development that leaves no one behind, the United Nations (UN) has set very high targets in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The SDGs succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Development organisations and national governments are bracing up to address the challenges that hindered the broad achievement of the MDGs.
"The SDG agenda and the SDG goals require that we think about development in a different way, in order to meet the ambitions set by our political leaders.
"The reality is that the bar has been set higher with the SDGs," admits Serge Patrick Kapto, Policy Specialist-Data for Development at the UNDP, in an interview with the GNA on the side lines of the just-ended African Open Data Conference (AODC) 2017, held in Accra.
The conference on the theme: 'Open Data for Sustainable Development,' explored the vital role of open data, in Africa.
It also highlighted the use and importance of open data in accelerating development in various sectors, including agriculture, governance, climate and environment, extractives, health, energy, economic growth and civil society.
Actors in development, at both global and national levels, will have to understand and rethink how development programmes are implemented, and how processes are structured to deliver progress.
They will have to know who are at risk of being left behind in development and why, in order to ensure inclusiveness, and availability of credible, accessible and usable data, is critical to the venture.
There is interconnectedness of all 17 goals of the SDGs; they cannot each be implemented in isolation, and governments will have to focus on executing all, while tracking the indicators.
To do this, Mr Kapto notes the need to build the right analytical tools that can bring data from all these areas of development.
This will allow actors to understand how they interact with one another, so as to get the right tools to understand what the bottlenecks of development can be, and how they can be unplugged.
It will also help to identify the accelerators, and areas where investments can have an accelerated impact on development.
"For that, we need to have the right data to inform the new analytical tools that we need to develop," Mr Kapto maintains.
Africa, for instance, lacks adequate gender disaggregated data, but studies have produced statistics to show that investing in women is 'half the effort needed to lift countries out of poverty'.
This underlines the need for data to know how development indicators are affecting women, as addressing the specific needs of women will help accelerate progress on the SDGs.
Another example, according Mr Kapto, is the correlation between conflict and poverty, climate change and climate displacement, among others.
"These are examples that show that having the right data sets, and correlating all these different datasets, would help us advance progress... More data in these countries will help make better policies to mitigate effects."
While governments play a big role in the production, release and use of data, citizens can also play critical roles in data collection and use to address problems in their communities.
This would, however, require that some foundations are laid to enable them do this.
Involving people in data collection and use of data for development
A major challenge to the use of data by citizens in Africa is the low level of data literacy, and Mr Kapto acknowledges the need to direct more efforts to data literacy among the public.
"People need to know what data can do for them; what data to demand of their policy makers and decision makers, and also know what they can do with either the data they collect themselves, or data that is made available to them," he states.
This requires the capacity building of constituencies as the main objects of data, using simple strategies like advocacy through the media and civil society organisations to ensure that governments and data producers target their messages towards communities and citizens, as raw data will not be very useful for them.
Journalists, he notes, will also have a role to play in getting the data, in the right form, into the hands of the people, so that they can do something with it.
He encouraged the use of simple ways like having a feedback loop on how data collected from communities have been used, or how the people can use it, encouraging local grassroots innovation by those who are the experts in the development challenges in their communities, and, more importantly, creating an environment where they can thrive and innovate.
"There are a lot of efforts happening through data innovation hubs, 'Hackathon' competitions, particularly, in the agricultural and other sectors that help create opportunities for young people in these communities to become more data savvy, learn skills and try to devise solutions that can address problems in the communities," he said.
Sensitising all stakeholders to the importance of data in development, and involving them in the proper collection and use of data to address development challenges, is the way to go to achieve the ambitious SDGs.