The Estonian Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage is administered by the Estonian Folk Culture Centre. The work on it began in 2007 in close collaboration with the researchers of the University of Tartu, Estonian National Museum and Estonian Literary Museum. The online inventory (www.rahvakultuur.ee/vkpnimistu) was opened to the public in 2010.
It is a new inventory that does not directly build on existing databases in order to ensure that the inventory focuses on intangible cultural heritage as living heritage and also to ensure community participation. The inventory is a part of the broader process of encouraging communities to pay more attention to their intangible heritage, of raising awareness about it and about the different ways of safeguarding it. It is one of the means of activating the communities.
The purpose of the inventory is to serve the interests of local communities. This means a bottom-up approach. Communities themselves compile entries for the inventory. It is up to them to decide if they want their intangible heritage to be included in the inventory, which elements should be there and how they want to present them. This ensures the respect of customary practices governing access to elements of intangible heritage.
The inventory is structured in a twofold way. On the one hand there are four types of entries: elements of intangible heritage, individual practitioners, organisations that are connected with this element and places or regions that are important for this element. Other entries are subordinated to the entry of an element. Every entry includes short analytical texts and audiovisual materials. The entries focus on current social and cultural functions of the element, and on the current activities of practitioners and organisations giving an overview of the essence of every element and of the place it has in peoples' lives at present. They also include historical background information and information on the sustainability of the element.
On the other hand the entries are arranged according to the domains of intangible cultural heritage that they represent. There is a three-level list of domains (settlement, way of life, living environment; management of natural resources; food and nutrition; crafts; language and poetical genres; customs and religion; pastime and playful activities) and sub-domains.
The main criterion for an element to be included on the inventory is that the community wants to include it. Nevertheless it has to correspond to the definition of intangible heritage, to be an element of living heritage that is important for the community at present and has been passed on from generation to generation. The uniqueness of the element is not relevant; neither is the ethnic background or the size of the community. All communities from Estonia can contribute to the inventory. However, the entries have to be informative and compendious. Every entry concerning an intangible heritage element has to include information on its sustainability: on the ways of transmission, on the threats it faces (if any), and on safeguarding measures and their impact. Communities can share their good safeguarding practices.
The Estonian Folk Culture Centre encourages communities and their NGOs to compile entries for the inventory. It also acts in an advisory capacity concerning the format of the entry and the necessity to provide informed consent letters of the practitioners and organisations representing the element concerned. The Estonian Council for the Intangible Cultural Heritage approves entries of the elements to national inventory of intangible cultural heritage.
An inventory that is based on the initiative of communities needs time to evolve. The circle widens step by step. The work began in cooperation with Võro and Hiiu communities who were already actively safeguarding and promoting their intangible heriage and interested in working with the inventory. These communities and their first entries have served as a positive role model for others who have started to initiate various safeguarding activities and to compile entries for the inventory. Thus the scope of the inventory widens step by step both regionally and in terms of encompassing different fields of intangible cultural heritage.