"White Paper" is a term we use to describe a document - usually a report, or a consultation, which is published in order that people can have a look at, and have a chance to discuss, all the issues before a decision is made
For example here in the UK, the Government will publish a White Paper before going ahead with an Act of Parliament to make new laws, or change existing laws.
This White Paper was published in 2010 and was about the Importance of Teaching.
In the document which you can view online, the Government set out all the changes they thought should happen, by when, and for what reason. Then they asked teachers, parents, the public and anyone else with any interest, to say what they thought 'Are the changes good, will they work, do you have any other suggestions?'
When they got all the responses back they made a decision and decided on a new Act of Parliament ( in this case the Education Act 2011)
A White Paper can also be published in business and technology - but these are more likely to be for marketing and sales. For example, in 2011 you could have looked at White Paper number 50 called ‘No Gold Digging for me!’ and decided after reading a fairly long and detailed document, whether or not to put your money into buying gold as investment with the company who published the White Paper!
Businessess sometimes have White Papers written to help them to find an answer to a problem, e.g. 'What's the next step we should take?' Some people are very good at putting all these things down - others have to learn.....
Nobody really knows why the phrase “White Paper’ came into being - but it’s likely that it has something to do with Government papers which had a white cover - to distinguish them from Government paper with a blue cover - called (not surprisingly) Blue Papers!”
According to the Oxford English Dictionary the phrase was first seen in use in 1899......’An interesting White Paper has been published giving reports from our Ambassadors...’
White Papers are facinating and you can learn a lot about history from looking back and observing what White Papers have been published and what the outcome was.
A famous White Paper was published in 1939 setting out the policy of creating an independent country of Palestine which would be governed by both Jew and Arabs - the consequences of this White Papers are still being felt in 2014!