A. Albee and G. Boyd, (March 1997)
Doing it Differently
Networks of Community Development Agents, Community Government Exchange,
Research and Practice Report No.4, Community Learning Scotland.
Deciding on the best type of network for your situation involves understanding the
general options that are available. These can best be understood through diagrams, see
below. Each type of network differs in its answers to the following questions:
Where are decisions taken?
How do communications take place?
What is the projected scale of the network?
A network, which takes a hierarchy approach functions as an organic whole
in that its parts are designed to perform, specialised tasks necessary to the functioning
of the whole. If any part collapses, the network ceases to function effectively.
A Hub or Central Node Network
A network based on a hub or central node strategy is normally more decentralised than a
hierarchical structure. The hub functions as a service centre for autonomous or
semi-autonomous member organisations. It is likely to have some degree of centralised
decision-making, though this is often an issue of tension between the hub and the members.
Communications between the members is via the hub.
An autonomous/ non-hierarchical approach is one in which each member is self-sufficient
and chooses to join the network; dependency on the network is minimised. Any member could
survive the elimination of others and there is a free-flow and unstructured pattern to
There is no single paramount lead body; all are equals and no one particular body
speaks for the network unless appointed to do so by all parties. Network decision-making
is by consensus and vote. The nature of its unifying force is mutuality - a common bond
and shared vision. A shared vision does not necessarily mean a shared approach to
execution, implementation or delivery.
A federation is a network in which each member organisation either elects or appoints a
member to be their representative on the network. Unlike other types of networks,
federations are representative by nature. Federations have clearly defined rules based on
democratic principles. Nonetheless, any organisation or group may function within itself
through hierarchical, consensus decision-making or other means.
It is possible to progress through different types of networks and in reality for some
organisations and structures it may be essential to take a staged approach.
If, for example, you are part of an organisation which wishes to establish a network of
health care providers, water-user committees or school boards, you may need to begin with
a hierarchical approach and move over-time through a decentralised hub and eventually an
autonomous hierarchy. Nonetheless, the key decision about what type of network you
ultimately want to establish should be taken before starting implementation and this
decision should be well documented. The documentation should clearly outline the strategy
and time-scale for moving through the different types of networks. The tendency otherwise
is to become comfortable or perhaps even a bit complacent with the transitional
arrangements, such that in the future they may limit the potential of the initiative.
There is also the danger that once a hierarchy or decentralised hub network is
established, decision-makers will be reluctant to step-back and allow an autonomous
non-hierarchical structure to develop.