Culture means everything to Francesca Valsecchi. Since 2010, the Italian design practitioner and researcher has been living in Shanghai in pursuit of a transcultural lifestyle. As Assistant Professor at the Tongji University College of Design and Innovation, her goal is to understand the role of cultures within the context of design.
“I’m working on how methods of design research are informed and affected by cultures in general,” Valsecchi says. “Designers always talk about the capacity of telling stories but then, if you work in transcultural environments, you need to be able to listen to the story of the other before you learn how to tell a story to them or for them.”
Design in context
Valsecchi obtained her Doctorate Degree at Politecnico di Milano in 2009 before conducting her postdoctoral research on sustainable heritages at Tongji University through the European Union’s Science and Technology Fellowship Programme. In association with the Design for Sustainability and Social Innovation (DESIS) Network, Valsecchi’s current research and teaching efforts focus on Digital Social Innovation, Shanghai street food culture and Rural-Urban Exchange. More specifically, the researcher is exploring the concept of open data within the social and cultural context of China as a rapidly developing digital economy.
“I think open data is very interesting, especially in a country where the concept of ‘open’ is in itself very controversial,” Valsecchi claims. “It seems to be a very active topic in China now with the government creating various open data initiatives and pro-actively exploring ways of citizen engagement and participation.”
Through detailed fieldwork and an extended ethnographic approach, Valsecchi and her colleagues initiate, document and analyse public discourse on open data through various workshops and activities. Given the multicultural environment in Shanghai, the designer considers the idea of citizenship as a central issue.
“Being a citizen means very different things if you are foreigner working at a university or a local migrant in a city with a fifty-year-old heritage,” Valsecchi explains. “This gives you very different lifestyle conditions and practical solutions so the data that you find useful for your daily achievement may be very different. I want to know how public organizations can take care of social qualities and cultural needs to produce best service.”
During her Design United Research Fellowship at Eindhoven University of Technology, Valsecchi had the opportunity to examine how open data is treated and used in other countries with the Netherlands as a point of comparison. At the same time, she was able to share her knowledge on Digital Social Innovation and open data with students and researchers alike.
According to the designer, her Eindhoven experience helped refine the scope of her research to include geographic areas with varying sizes and characteristics. Although open data is often viewed as a global phenomenon, Valsecchi asserts that it can also be very localised and specific. That being said, she believes her research can offer strong arguments from a cultural perspective to the current discourse on big data.
“I do design research because we need to make sure that the design that we do is really necessary,” Valsecchi says. “I think we should concentrate on qualities not quantities, on diversity not similarities, on the specific and not the generic.”
Personal profile of Francesca Valsecchi
Research fellow 2015
Assistant Professor at the Tongji University College of Design and Innovation