Concept 1

Short Form:

“Final responsibility and ultimate authority for A.A. world services should always reside in the collective conscience of our whole Fellowship.”

Long Form:

“The final responsibility and ultimate authority for A.A. world services should always reside in the collective conscience of our whole Fellowship.”

Principle of the Concept:


One Thing You Need To Know:

Groups Have Ultimate Authority

Groups Have Ultimate Authority

A.A. groups themselves make ALL final business decisions for the Fellowship. How?

A group’s General Service Representative (GSR) [or Alternate GSR in the absence of the GSR] votes the conscience of their group on agenda items up for discussion at the General Service Conference (GSC) once a year (via an Area’s Pre-Conference Assembly process), which is where all A.A. business is decided.

Tradition 2 also speaks to the reason groups make all decisions. God expressing Himself through the group conscience has proven that the shared intelligence of the group (along with the spiritual resource of “right purpose”) is all we need to help guide the Conference to make the best decisions possible for A.A. and its related world services.

from Twelve Concepts of World Service Illustrated

Alcoholics Anonymous has been called an upside-down organization because the “ultimate responsibility and final authority for . . . world services” resides with the groups — rather than with the trustees of the General Service Board or the General Service Office in New York.

In Concept I, Bill traces how this came to be. The first step in 1938 was “the creation of a trusteeship,” first called the Alcoholic Foundation, renamed in 1954 the General Service Board. Why? To perform the services the groups could not do for themselves: e.g., uniform literature, uniform public information about A.A., helping new groups get started, sharing with them the experience of established groups, handling pleas for help, publishing a national magazine, and carrying the message in other languages and in other countries. A service office was formed to carry on these functions under the board’s direction. Both the board and the office looked to the co-founders, Bill and Dr. Bob, for policy leadership.

In the midst of the “exuberant success” of early A.A., Dr. Bob became fatally ill and Bill asked, “When Dr. Bob and I are gone, who would then advise the trustees and the office?” The answer, Bill felt, was to be found in the collective conscience of the A.A. groups. But how could the autonomous, widely scattered groups exercise such a responsibility?

Over great resistance by trustees and members devoted to the status quo, Bill managed to “sell” the idea of calling an A.A. General Service Conference (see Concept II), and eleven years later Bill was able to declare, “The results of the Conference have exceeded our highest expectations.” This Concept is rooted in Tradition Two, which states:

“For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority — a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.”

The principles of Tradition Two are crystal-clear, Bill asserts: “The A.A. groups are to be the final authority; their leaders are to be entrusted with delegated responsibilities only.” The outside world cannot imagine an organization run this way, but Bill calls it “a spiritualized society characterized by enough enlightenment, enough responsibility, and enough love of man and of God to insure that our democracy of world service will work.”

The text above is an excerpt from the A.A. conference approved pamphlet (P8) The Twelve Concepts for World Service Illustrated. Download your own copy of the full pamphlet.


    1. Does our group have a general service representative (G.S.R.)? Do we feel that our home group is part of A.A. as a whole and do our group’s decisions and actions reflect that?
    2. Do we hold regular group conscience meetings encouraging everyone to participate? Do we pass that conscience on to the district, area, or the local intergroup meetings?
    3. Is the “collective conscience” of Alcoholics Anonymous at work in my home group? In my area?
    4. Where do we fit in the upside-down triangle of A.A.?
    5. Are we willing to do what it takes to insure that our democracy of world service will work under all conditions?

This checklist offered as part of Service Material from the General Service Office (SMF-91).  Download your copy of the complete checklist.