The Twelve Concepts

Why do we need the Concepts?

Reading: "The AA Service Manual and 12 Concepts for World Service, by Bill W."

We have discussed already how Tradition 9 creates the need for the Concepts by distinguishing between Service Committees and Groups. The Group has a 'group conscience' through which a loving God works to allow it to make the best decisions. The service committee serves those groups by making decisions in answer to the 'collective conscience' of those groups. Note: a service committee is not a group, so cannot have a group conscience! The service committees are committees such as Intergroup, Region and Conference (with the GSB an executive sub-committee of Conference). Area and District are service committees which exist in fellowship throughout the world, but not in Great Britain. The 12 Concepts are the rules of debate and conduct for service committees that ensure that they serve the collective conscience of the groups they are accountable to. They appear in Appendix VII of the Big Book. They are also discussed at length in the book called: "The AA Service Manual and 12 Concepts for World Service, by Bill W".

The primary purpose of a group is to carry the AA message. The primary purpose of a service committee is different. There are no newcomers at Intergroup so there is no point in us sharing as we do in an AA group. Intergroup is there to serve the groups that carry the AA message. In the US this is emphasised in some service committees by the reading of a preamble that states: 'Our primary purpose is service.' The service committee organises and provides the services that enable the groups to do their job (telephone rotas, cross-fertilisation of group experience through workshops and lastly and very importantly, discussion of service policy (for we cannot do service well if we do not consider how to do it.)

The committees that discuss service policy such as District and Area in the US, and Intergroup and Region in Great Britain, are called General Service Committees and comprise the General Service structure (sometimes also called the Conference structure). The group representative who participates in this should therefore be called a General Service Representative (GSR).

As stated the 12 Concepts are the rules of debate, so to speak, that enable service committees to serve the collective conscience. Without the application of the Concepts debate can become acrimonious, be dominated by forceful personalities and leads to time-wasting as people spend as much time arguing over how to take a fair vote as they discussing the actual issues on the agenda.

We won't go through all the concepts here, but will pick out four that are neglected in Great Britain, where the writer comes from, and so we have seen the problems that such neglect causes:

Concept I: Final responsibility and ultimate authority for AA world services should always reside in the collective conscience of our whole fellowship.

This defines the principle of the 'collective conscience' and so distinguishes it from the group conscience. It is this principle that applies, as the wording says, across 'all our world services', that is it should be used in all service committees throughout the world. There is no need for any fellowship in the world to write their own Concepts. There is a set of British Concepts, which changed the word 'world' to 'Great Britain'. Some, not all, feel that this was unnecessary and that the legal arguments used by the GSB at the time to justify the changes were not correct. One very important way in which the collective conscience is different from the group conscience is that whereas in a group conscience, unity is achieved best by consensus, with people following the lead of the trusted old-timers; in a collective conscience of a service committee it would be wrong always to seek because the participating GSRs and delegates have a responsibility to speak up on behalf of their groups. If they do not they are neglecting their duties. There must be debate and tolerance of disagreement. Therefore, the collective conscience looks for 'substantial unanimity', that is a 2/3 majority, rather than consensus, which means complete agreement (see concept XII later).

Concept IV: At all responsible levels we ought to maintain a traditional 'Right of Participation' allowing a voting representation in reasonable proportion to the responsibility that each must discharge.

Every service officer should have a vote at each service committee eg Intergroup. Sometimes Intergroups, for example, do not allow them to have a vote, especially at Intergroup, where the arguments is that it is only the groups' representatives who should have a vote. This Concept says that certainly, the groups should have their say, but the service officers must be allowed to vote and participate also. By Service Officers we mean people such as the treasurer, chair, or secretary.

Concept V: Throughout our structure, a traditional 'Right of Appeal' ought to prevail, so that minority opinion will be heard and personal grievances receive careful consideration.

The minority appeal is never applied properly in Great Britain. In the US, after debate and vote on any motion, the losing party is asked immediately if they wish to appeal. If so (and very often they do) a spokesperson is nominated by them who give the 'minority' viewpoint for 5 minutes. Then the assembly is asked if anyone, having heard the minority appeal, wishes to change his or her mind. If even one hand goes up then there is an automatic revote. After this, the process is repeated until nobody wishes to appeal, or nobody changes their mind. It is not unusual for the first vote to be reversed. And it is not unusual for there to be several ballots. Although it is a longwinded process, the final decision has greater force as all participants feel that they have had a fair say. There is a feeling that it really does represent a true collective conscience.

Concept XII: This is a list of the five 'warranties' of the general service conference. We will just focus on one very important aspect here: 'that all important decisions are reached by discussion, vote, and, whenever possible, substantial unanimity.'

As just mentioned we look for a 2/3 majority rather than consensus. But there is more to this than the size of the vote. At Conference particularly, there should always be discussion. This means that as far as possible all items discussed at Conference should appear on the published agenda beforehand so the groups have a chance to contribute (but, of course it is their privilege to be disinterested and not contribute if they choose). Then, armed with the full range of their groups' views, the Conference delegates go the annual conference. Conference works by all delegates present dividing up into committees and discussing everything in detail. Then, at the end they all come together at what is called the plenary session to approve or reject each committee's answers. Thorough debate at the plenary session is difficult because there are many more people present and time is limited. The plenary session, therefore, is primarily a forum for voting rather than detailed discussion (although some discussion should take place as well). Sadly in the past in Great Britain, some important items have not appeared on the committee agenda and were not discussed in detail in the committees (for example, the adoption of a British set of Concepts). There cannot be full discussion if this happens and there is always a doubt that the best decisions have been made.