I've heard that phrase used to describe how 12-Step meetings work - we all agree to a loose framework of behavior which makes the meeting safe for everyone. But in truth, there is no-one in authority who will, or can, force us to abide by the framework of respect and consideration; we do it because we want the meetings to be comfortable, useful, hopeful, and a soft place to fall for each of us.
Now and then we will hear a newcomer, or less often, a member with some years in program, admonish a meeting for being a certain way - the member might feel that some people are laughing when they shouldn't, or perhaps topics aren't being addressed the way this member feels they should be.
In the book, "How It Works, for Families and Friends of Alcoholics" a group conscience is defined as "the voice of the majority of the members." This voice is reached through discussion, and then voting on the subject, with an agreement beforehand that we will abide by the decision reached.
I've seen group consciences where one member asked for a discussion and vote, on something about which he or she felt very strongly, and I've seen the discussion bring to the surface, aspects that other members hadn't considered, and which in the end, changed the way we voted.
I've also seen members ask for a group conscience because they felt that something wasn't right, and the vote went with the majority of the members voting against their idea. Some members can accept this as the voice of the majority, apply Tradition One: "Our common welfare comes first, personal progress for the greatest number depends upon unity" and with good grace, understand that they are in the minority on this issue, and things won't change to suit them.
By contrast, I've seen members become more and more agitated about having been voted down, until their anger causes them to decide to attend a different meeting. I once worried that this was a bad thing, that in voting, and the voting going against their pet idea, we might be "driving them away."
It was my first sponsor who pointed out to me, that each of us has a Higher Power, and that maybe this person needed to move to another meeting, in order to be able to learn something he or she desperately needed to learn, in order to continue to grow.
Many Al-Anon members have spoken to me about how one person has said something in a meeting which was life-changing for them - I like to call these "startling revelations." I enjoyed the first meeting I attended, but it wasn't until I moved away, and began attending a new-to-me meeting, that I had a startling revelation about some part of my life. It was the result of hearing a member speak who had I not moved, I'd never have heard. She was a force for change in my life, but I had to go to a different meeting to meet that force.
Because of this, I believe it is vital for all of us to allow meetings to be run by our Higher Power. The more that I can set aside my ideas about what should be being read, or discussed, or evaluated, and allow the meeting to flow with its own speed and power, the more I am uplifted, refreshed and granted serenity.