Different models of networks

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The Internet provides a diverse ecosystem where various models coexist. This task highlights how different models influence interactions and shape the specific character of networks. Furthermore, it raises the question of how structure relates to democratic principles.


  • Understanding how networks’ structures shape social interactions.
  • Understanding how democratic principles are reflected in structural concepts.


1. Introduce the different models of network shapes (see illustration).

Explore the variety of shapes


The different types of networks in this illustration: ring; meshed; star; fully meshed; line; tree; bus

There are several models of how networks can be organised. The organizational architecture of a network constructs the underlying governance model they adhere to and predict the conditions for interaction, (democratic) governance, participation and access. Each way to organise a network has advantages and disadvantages. Each logic is inherently valid.

  • Centralised systems technically do not need client devices with strong technical features in order to function (unless the central server lacks strength).
  • Decentralised systems rely on decentralised maintenance and may have more requirements regarding client devices they might be applied better for specific user needs such as privacy or add-ons.
  • Federated systems minimise the connecting infrastructure on a common (and often open) standard.

Openness in the sense of using one code is an integral aspect of the Internet as a non-central network, appreciating the ideas of shared standards, interoperability, free access and sharing. Platformisation and different governance models of the Internet today seem to contradict this assumption, characterised by proprietary models, oligopolies, data-drivenness and exertion of technologic, economic and political power by a small number of strong companies or national states setting strict rules.

However, strong, centralised actors rely on many small, independent and free-floating participants to develop appropriate and innovative solutions. All rely on common standards. The decision about the technical path in which a network is organised is a highly political one, with political implications, as is the decision of a person to make use of certain models. Both have implications for the social model they are envisioning.

2. Discuss how the networks in which the learners are involved are organised. Try to identify different examples from real life.

3. Guiding questions could be:

  • How are digital tools I use connected?
  • What type of organisation do they follow?

4. Discuss how the purpose and function determines structural decisions. Possible guiding questions:

  • What are different network’s styles useful for?
  • What aim do they serve? Who has power? Who sets the rules?

5. Explore, with an example, the technical, social and political pros and cons of a service or tool.


  • How do different models relate to your ideas of democracy and participation?
  • What aims could legitimate the use of hierarchical models? (For instance, security, safety, etc.)

Nils-Eyk Zimmermann

Nils-Eyk Zimmermann

Editor of Competendo. Coordinator of the project DIGIT-AL Digital Transformation in Adult Learning for Active Citizenship. Network Secretary of the DARE network. Topics: active citizenship, civil society, digital transformation, non-formal and lifelong learning, capacity building. Blogs here: Blog: Civil Resilience. Email: office@dare-network.eu

Time 60 minutes

Material Standard

Group Size 5-25 people

Keywords networks, power, democracy




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