Conference Structure


A Picture is Worth 1000 Words

Have you heard people mention the phrase, “General Service Conference” or even simpler, “The Conference” and didn’t fully understand what they were talking about?  If you were like me in the beginning, you had a “basic” understanding of what that meant, but wasn’t 100% sure you understood it.

Because I’m a visual kinda person, I had to sit down and “draw it out”.  While A.A. has provided a great visual through the “upside down triangle” in our Service Manual (shown above), there were a few pieces of information not on that triangle that I still had questions on.  The diagram below represents MY understanding of our General Service Structure.  If you’re a service junkie and see anything I have wrong on the diagram, please, feel free to reach out to me, let me know and I will be happy update it.  Thanks!  🙂


A Few Random Thoughts on the Conference:

  • Group’s elect a GSR so they can carry their group’s conscience on business items that are going to be decided for A.A. as a whole at the next General Service Conference.  They pass their group’s conscience along to the Area Delegate who takes that to New York each year in April.
  • As of January 2018, there are three (3) Delegate Areas in the U.S. that have the “County” layer inside their service structure layout (South Eastern New York, Chicago and Los Angeles).
  • In jest and good fun, Class A (non-alcoholic) Trustees are sometimes called “amateurs” and Class B (alcoholic) Trustees are called “boozers.”
  • When referring to the “Conference”, folks might be referring to the entire body of trusted servants that make it up (see diagram above), or they may be referring to the actual week long meeting that takes place every April in NYC where the 93 Delegate Areas come together to help decide the business of A.A. annually.

How Do Items Get On the General Service Conference Meeting Agenda Each Year?

The final agenda for any Conference consists of items suggested by individual A.A. members, groups, delegates, trustees, area assemblies, area committee members, and directors and staff members of A.A.W.S. and the Grapevine. The Conference considers matters of policy for A.A. as a whole, and there are tried-and-true procedures for placing an item on the agenda in the most effective way-or, when the suggestion does not concern overall policy, for routing it to the most appropriate part of the service structure.

If a GSR has an idea for an agenda item, chances are that he or she will want to discuss it first with the group, then at a district or area meeting, which can then forward it to the staff member at G.S.O. currently serving as Conference coordinator. An A.A. who is not part of the general service structure can get the idea to the group’s GSR or write directly to the Conference coordinator.

What ever its origin, any agenda item follows the same path to the Conference agenda: The A.A. staff studies it in the light of previous Conference actions, then passes it on to the trustees’ Conference Committee or the appropriate Conference committee. Usually, the trustees’ committee determines the most appropriate way of programming it-as a workshop or presentation subject, a proposal, or a committee concern.  (From the A.A. Service Manual BM-31, Page S56)

Why We Need A Conference

The late Bernard B. Smith, nonalcoholic, then chairman of our board of trustees, and one of the architects of the Conference structure, answered that question superbly in his opening talk at the 1954 meeting:

“We may not need a General Service Conference to insure our own recovery. We do need it to insure the recovery of the alcoholic who still stumbles in the darkness one short block from this room. We need it to insure recovery of a child being born tonight, destined to alcoholism. We need it to provide, in keeping with our Twelfth Step, a permanent haven for all alcoholics who, in the ages ahead, can find in A.A. that rebirth which brought us back to life.

We need it because we, more than all others, are conscious of the devastating effects of the human urge for power and prestige which we must insure can never invade A.A. We need it to insure A.A. against government, while insulating it against anarchy; we need it to protect A.A. against disintegration while preventing overintegration. We need it so that Alcoholics Anonymous, and Alcoholics Anonymous alone, is the ultimate repository of its Twelve Steps, its Twelve Traditions, and all of its services.

We need it to insure that changes within A.A. come only as a response to the needs and wants of all A.A., and not of any few. We need it to insure that the doors of halls of A.A. never have locks on them, so that all people for all time who have an alcoholic problem may enter these halls unasked and feel welcome. We need it to insure that Alcoholics Anonymous never asks of anyone who needs us what his or her race is, what his or her creed is, what his or her social position is.” (from The AA Service Manual – BM-31)