White Papers

What is a White Paper?

The term white paper was originally used to refer to an official government or organizational report, indicating that the document is authoritative and informative in nature. Writers typically use this genre when they argue a specific position or propose a solution to a problem, addressing the audience outside of their organization. Today, white papers have also become popular tools for corporations especially on the Internet since many potential customers search for information on the Web (Purdue).

Definition adapted from Purdue Writing Lab. (n.d.). “White Paper: Purpose and Audience”
// purdue writing lab. Retrieved April 19, 2021, from https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/subject_specific_writing/professional_technical_writing/white_papers/index.html

The Purpose of a White Paper

Typically, the purpose of a white paper is to advocate that a certain position is the best way to go or that a certain solution is best for a particular problem (Purdue).

Adapted from:

Purdue Writing Lab. (n.d.). “White Paper: Purpose and Audience”
// purdue writing lab. Retrieved April 19, 2021, from https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/subject_specific_writing/professional_technical_writing/white_papers/index.html


How do I submit a White Paper?

MAAM hosts white papers on our website from members of our Association to inform and educate the field about next practices and research findings. Interested in sharing your white paper? Contact us at info@midatlanticmuseums.org.

Recent White Papers

Reflections on Re-Assessing Museum Purpose

Authors: Avi Decter, Marsha Semmel,

Darryl Williams, Jonathan Edelman, Kayleigh Bryant-Greenwell,Nafisa Isa

Based on Plenary (Town Hall) Session from the MAAM 2023 Annual Meeting, 10/12/23

Released as a White Paper by MAAM on December 2023

Back in 2005, Stephen Weil, one of our most thoughtful colleagues, argued that “[p]urpose isn’t the most important thing in the museum, it’s the only thing.” Moreover, he wrote, “if [a museum] fails to provide a social benefit, it wastes society’s resources. To produce a social outcome—to provide a positive benefit to its targeted audiences—must be such an organization’s first responsibility.” He famously posed two basic questions: Why? and What for?

But Weil’s admonition leaves open some key questions: exactly what social benefit? And who are the actual beneficiaries? And how might we proceed—especially under conditions of novelty? This last phrase is important, for we live in a moment of unprecedented crisis in America. In addition to the pandemic (which still persists, by the way, and which disrupted the lives of nearly all Americans), we are dealing with climate change, environmental degradation, and natural disasters; economic dislocation, inflation, and inequities; demographic shifts; social and political divisiveness, denial, and disinformation—in short, a tsunami of nested crises.

But confronting change, even fundamental change, is our condition, our reality. As Ken Yellis has written, “every museum, whether they know it or not, is on a journey. And every museum professional, whether they know it or not, is also on a journey.” It follows that, as John Cotton Dana suggested more than a century ago, that every museum must “reposition itself continuously in order to ensure its vitality.” More recently, Darren Peacock writes that the “ability of any organization to respond to change is enabled or constrained by the quality of its conversations about purposes, values, practices, and identities.” 

In his seminal 1971 essay, “Temple or Forum,” Duncan Cameron argued that museums should be forums “for confrontation, experimentation, and debate. . . unfiltered by convention and established values, so that new values and their expressions can be seen and heard by all.” This is true not only in public, but inside museums as well. We and our colleagues are obligated to continuously reassess our purposes and our values. In short, the failure to adopt reflective practice is leading us and our institutions toward a dead end: all too often, we are fighting to preserve different parts of a broken system.

So in planning for this session, we have asked our panelists two basic questions: 

First, if you could effect any change in American museums in the next two or three years, what changes would you make? 

And second, if you could influence the policies and practices of museums over the next twenty years, how would you re-direct them?

Seizing the Moment

A Manifesto for Next Practice

Authors: Avi Decter and Ken Yellis

Written in February 2021

Released as a White Paper by MAAM on April 2021

This is a manifesto championing next practice among museums in the United States. We mean to speak emphatically to museum professionals, boards, funders, and to those in the media who report on the cultural sector, and to museum communities and the public at large who treasure museums. We seek to excite their thinking and stretch their imaginations to recognize both the need and the opportunities for change. Our case is simple: changes in our society and the global environment require that we rethink and repurpose our organizations if we intend to remain relevant in the post-pandemic moment. Some of the changes we propose have been advancing for years, but have gained urgency in a time of plague, social upheaval, technological change, systemic racism, and environmental disaster. Other ideas have come to the fore as a direct consequence of contemporary disruption, economic scarcity, social and political division. Still other insights have come from imaginative colleagues of varied backgrounds across the museum field.

Since the spring of 2020, we have tried to consider the post-plague future, to identify the challenges museum leaders face now and will face going forward, and to envisage the possibilities that may emerge. Our intent is to think beyond the urgent present to a more inclusive, engaged, sustainable future. In recent months, we have convened a series of conversations with colleagues from museums of various kinds across the country and participated in numerous webinars and talking circles. Our proposals are grounded in the insights, the concerns, and the spirit of hope and possibility that suffused these conversations. The museum field needs to have more such conversations as we prepare for an uncertain future.

This is not the first time that social, technological, and environmental changes have dramatically reshaped the museum landscape in the United States. Generation after generation, museums have proved adaptable to new realities. After World War II, for example, the wave of Baby Boomers led to a proliferation of new children’s museums, science centers, and hands-on learning sites, as well as discovery spaces in established museums. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Civil Rights movement and the rise of identity politics wrought a dramatic alteration of the museum landscape, unleashing much creative energy and a radical expansion of culturally specific museums, including African American museums, Jewish museums, Latinx, Asian, and Native American museums. Most recently, natural history museums, zoos, arboreta, gardens, and science centers have responded directly to the dangers of climate change, mass extinction, and environmental disaster.

For now, long-term strategic planning is simply not possible. What is possible is to think strategically and empathetically and to extend our vision beyond the present. Among our 30,000 museums, some will be capable only of modest changes; a few will be able to fully rethink and restructure themselves. But if we want our museums to matter, i.e., to be relevant to the challenges at hand, we need to adapt to novel and new conditions. In what follows, we address six key areas of concern and promise. In our analysis or interrogation of each, we pose three questions: What are the critical challenges we face? Where are their remedies, their resources and safeguards, their opportunities? And how might we get from here to there?

Resources for Institutions Engaging in Capital Projects During Covid-19

from Zubatkin Owner Representation

Zubatkin has developed a series of articles about navigating issues for non-profit real estate and construction projects in the context of Covid-19.  Initial topics address strategies for assessing key capital project impacts, crisis communications & governance, and approaching construction pauses & stoppages.

Articles #4 and #5:

Other Articles Include:

  1. Effectively Assessing Capital Project Impacts: Five Fundamental Strategies
  2. Crisis Communications & Governance: Four Key Tasks
  3. A Checklist for Approaching Construction Pauses & Stoppages

View the articles on Zubatkin’s website – www.zubatkin.com/covid19.  Zubatkin will be  continually updating and adding content to the webpage as they respond to evolving needs.

Zubatkin Owner Representation is a project management and owner representation firm based in New York City.  They build their reputation by employing a strategic and collaborative approach–leveraging the depth of their experience, in-house technical expertise and project controls to support their clients throughout the planning and implementation of their projects.

Zubatkin Owner Representation is a Corporate Member of MAAM.

PO Box 4 Cooperstown, NY 13326


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