“Traditional knowledge is rooted in the traditional life of Aboriginal people. Certain issues are firmly grounded in traditional knowledge, such as harvesting, use of lands and resources for traditional purposes, cultural well-being, heritage resources, and others. Although the basis for traditional and local knowledge and science-based knowledge can differ, they may on their own or together, contribute to the understanding of these issues.”
-Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency
Photo: Stanford Zent, Copyright 2012
The Vitality Index of Traditional Environmental Knowledge (VITEK) is the first-ever quantitative measure of trends in the retention or loss of traditional knowledge about the natural world. It provides a practical methodology for gathering and analyzing data on Traditional Environmental Knowledge (TEK) and for building a locally appropriate, yet globally applicable, indicator of changes in the state of TEK over time. Why does it matter?
What’s Happening with the Intergenerational Transmission of TEK?
The VITEK Tells The Story
TEK is a fundamental expression of the biocultural links between people and nature, and is a key to human survival and adaptation. But there is growing concern that rapid socio-economic change is undermining the intergenerational transmission of TEK in many parts of the world. TEK loss threatens the security, well-being, and identity of indigenous peoples and local communities. It also threatens the conservation of biodiversity, as recognized by international bodies such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). However, our knowledge about the vitality (retention or loss) of TEK in communities around the world was limited mostly to unsystematic qualitative observations. What was missing was a consistent, robust, and replicable methodology for measuring trends in TEK in may different locales and at different scales, in order to assess the global state of TEK. The VITEK was conceived to address this need.
As a part of a Terralingua project, in 2005-2008 Dr. Stanford Zent undertook the development of the VITEK methodology. The VITEK assesses the vitality of TEK within a given group, giving priority to the state of knowledge and practical skills that are directly involved in sustainable use of biodiversity, and that therefore are logically associated with biodiversity conservation. The VITEK assessment involves measuring the differences of knowledge and practices between people of different generations. The results of the test are used to calculate the vitality measure, which can then be employed to compare the status and trends of TEK across communities, regions and countries. An extensive description and justification of the methodology is found in the report:
Zent, S. 2008. Methodology for Developing a Vitality Index of Traditional Environmental Knowledge (VITEK) for the Project “Global Indicators of the Status and Trends of Linguistic Diversity and Traditional Knowledge”
An abridged guide to the use of the VITEK methodology is also available:
Zent, S. 2010. VITEK Quick-Step Methods Guide
In 2009-2012, the VITEK methodology was presented at various international meetings held by the CBD and IUCN, including a “Conservation CAmpus” workshop on the VITEK organized by Terralingua at IUCN’s 5th World Conservation Congress (Jeju, South Korea, 2012).
In 2011, IUCN recommended the VITEK as an indicator relevant to Target 18 of the CBD’s “Aichi Biodiversity Targets 2010-2010″, as it allows for directly measuring the state and trends of “traditional” knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and their customary use of biological resources.” The VITEK is featured on the site of the Biodiversity Indicators Partnership (BIP) which promotes and coordinates the development and delivery of biodiversity indicators in support of the CBD.
Since 2008, Dr. Zent has been continuing the VITEK research independently. He has been carrying out tests of the VITEK methodology in several Indigenous and local communities in Venezuela, with support from his academic institution, the Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Cientificas, and other Venezuelan sources. For additional information on the VITEK you can download relevant materials on the Download page or email
Stanford Zent srzent[at]gmail.com
We are deeply grateful to The Christensen Fund for its support of the development of the VITEK methodology in 2006-2008, and to the Swift Foundation for its support of dissemination of the methodology at the 5th World Conservation Congress in 2012.