Rethinking “Content”: The Four Truths

The Four Truths

Founded in 1996 in the aftermath of devastating and destructive apartheid, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission set out not only to investigate the causes and crimes of racial prejudice, but to work as a body promoting restorative justice. To do this, they established a framework for understanding truths based on 4 categories:

  1. Forensic Truth — What happened to whom, where, when, and how, and who was involved. In terms of interpretation, this is typically the resource and its factual story. In the past, this has been almost the sole source of our information and content for interpretive products.
  2. Personal (or Narrative) Truth — This is truth of personal recollection and memory—the world as viewed from one perspective. It is the product of personal experience and a selected subset of forensic evidence. In terms of interpretation, these are the lived experiences of the visitors and interpreters themselves elicited to be shared in the moment.
  3. Social Truth — This is a truth constructed from multiple personal narratives interacting with each other—either agreed upon by society as a whole or a subset of society. Oftentimes social truths held by different identity and affinity groups will clash.
  4. Reconciliatory Process — Sometimes also called the “Public Truth,” this is the process of exposing conflicting or disparate Personal and Social Truths to each other and working towards a shared understanding and conclusion from their meanings.

Try It Out

Download the “Ladder of Truths” worksheet and try categorizing the many truths of your park/site.

Additional Readings

Looking For More on Audience Centered Experiences?

Audience Centered Experience Button - Two Pictogram Visitors talking to a pictogram rangerYou can find much more self-guided learning and all of the materials for making yourself an ACE in the Audience Centered Experience Interpretation workbook.

Interpretive Leadership button - a pictogram ranger leading a group of other rangers higherYou can find links to seasonal lesson plans which support this emerging skill set in the Audience Centered Experience Trainers’ Guide.

Write a Review

  1. I couldn’t use my site to use the activity of the Ladder. I actually couldn’t come up. with something and then I recalled years ago when I was in high school (1966-1968), several of my friends had been to the Ledges ion CVNP. They all returned from their visit telling of having experienced ghosts. At that time, I was a chicken and afraid of many things. I couldn’t side with red or no as to there being spirits haunting the Ledges. I went along with it and thought to myself that I would never go there , much less at night time. So having covered the Forensic truth and the Personal truth, I believe that the social truth would have to go along with the majority of visitors to the site who agree that they heard or saw or experienced in some way the ghosts would mean that they must exist. Moving up to Reconciliatory Process, I think it would be something that each visitor would have to make up their own minds as to the existence of spirits in the Ledges.

  2. I really liked the idea of the 4 truths, the factual information combined with the stories of people’s lives. The ladder was hard for me, as I don’t feel I have enough background information about CVSR to actually tell an engaging story of the trains origins. I see research ahead of me!

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  4. An interesting textbook in graduate school was The Social Construction of Reality. The title says it all. Most folks think everyone sees things the way they do. We need to understand their perceptions better to present meaningful programs

  5. I really enjoyed learning about the 4 truths and reconciliation process! It was thought provoking and it really surprises me that this isn’t a more commonly talked about or taught thing. The speech was given in 2007 and yet it remains and has even become more relevant as time passes.


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