Network: Actors, connected through patterns of interaction (ie. a river, including the flow of the water and the river bed).


Structure: All components that channel interaction; agreements, rules, procedures, norms, physical infrastructure, etc. (ie. the river bed).


System: Entity with properties that cannot be attributed to those of the components that form this entity (ie. the force of the stream).


A network consists of components that are connected through patterns of interaction.


fishing net


A fishing net consists of knots and the ropes that connect them.

In a human network, the knots are actors; individuals or groups who can be seen as one entity. The ropes are the interactions that take place between them, such as communications and transactions. When the predictability of these interactions increases, the connections become stronger.

We are all involved in many networks at the same time, whether we are conscious of them or not. Networks are made up of both actors and interactions.


Who defines the network?

•    As an observer you can study patterns of interactions between actors, and classify them (strong, weak, related to a certain issue).

•    As part of a network you share a sense of identity with other members of the network. Such a network is referred to as a social network.

•    As an initiator you identify which actors should make a move for the initiative to become a reality. They might not be aware of the fact that you count them in. Here we are dealing with an action network.

Structures give shape to the interactions within a network. They can be thought of as a river bed, which channels the flow of the river (network). The dynamics within the network influence the structure, and vice versa.

As soon as actors in a network make arrangements, they form a structure. These arrangements could be about task division, communication or meeting regularly etc. Informal rules and norms also become part of the structure. (These are not the same as interaction patterns, which are repeated, predictable behaviours.)


A system has properties that cannot be explained by the properties of the components from which it is built.

For example, a water molecule has properties that cannot be explained by it's components, hydrogen and oxegen. Similarly, a human being is more than just flesh, blood, bones and neurons. It becomes a system because of the ways in which all these components interact with each other.


Our ability to think is a systems property.

Networks can also become systems, with properties which cannot be attributed to the individual actors that are part of it. This is when networks get added value.

This is because collaboration allows for task division and specialisation, creating possibilities beyond those of each individual. This is more than adding the workforce of each individual, like a span of four horses generates 4 HP. The network functions as a system, with its own dynamics and patterns.