The Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous make clear the principle that A.A., as such, should never be organized, that there are no bosses and no government in A.A. Yet at the same time, the Traditions recognize the need for some kind of organization to carry the message in ways that are impossible for the local groups - such as publication of uniform literature and public information resources, helping new groups get started, publishing an international magazine, and carrying the message in other languages into other countries.
The Conference structure of A.A. is the framework in which these "general services" are carried out. It is a method by which A.A.'s collective group conscience can speak forcefully and put its desires for worldwide services into effect. It is the structure that takes the place of government in A.A., ensuring that the full voice of A.A. will be heard and guaranteeing that movement-wide services will continue to function under all conditions. The story of the development of general services and Conference structure is told in the historical material that appears in the A.A. Service Manual Combined with Twelve Concepts for World Services, written by Bill W. one of the co-founders of A.A. Today, general services include all kinds of activities within the Conference structure, carried on by districts, area committees, delegates, trustees, the General Service Office and the Grapevine (A.A.'s monthly magazine). Usually, these services affect A.A. as a whole.
A.A. has been called an upside-down organization because by looking at an organizational chart the A.A. group or meeting is on top and "headquarters" is on the bottom. A.A. is comprised of groups or meetings. (Based on the Fourth Tradition of A.A. taken from the Long Form, "With respect to its own affairs, each A.A. group should be responsible to no other authority than its own conscience.
But when its plans concern the welfare of neighboring groups also, those groups ought to be consulted. And no group, regional committee, or individual should ever take any action that might greatly affect A.A. as a whole without conferring with the trustees of the General Service Board. On such issues our common welfare is paramount.")
Each A.A. group or meeting may elect a general service representative (GSR) to represent the group at district and area business meetings. Groups or meetings form districts, usually on a geographic basis, and districts form areas, also usually on a geographic basis. Each area in the U.S. and Canada elects a delegate to attend an annual Conference where matters of importance are determined by the voting delegates. Other Conference attendees include trustees, directors of A.A. World Services and the Grapevine magazine, staff members of the General Service Office and staff of the Grapevine magazine.