Measuring Traditional Environmental Knowledge

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?

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).

traditional ecological knowledge
Credit: Stanford Zent

Taking action to safeguard TEK, however, was hampered by the fact that 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.

Go to “Resources” below to access the VITEK methodology and other related materials.


Since 2008, Dr. Zent has carried 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.

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 has not yet been adopted for that purpose. It has been used, however, in field research about the state of TEK in various parts of the world.

For further information about the VITEK, you can download the materials below.  Or you may contact Dr. Zent.

Credit: Stanford Zent