Information about different ways of setting up effective organisations that have more than one group or section within them.
What is a federation?
Federations are essentially unions of autonomous organisations and/or affinity groups. An anarchist federation can be viewed as the regional, or national, or international decision making body of the union (depending on the federation's self-imposed geographical limitations) and the collectives or affinity groups that belong to the federation can be viewed as autonomous union locals. Federations are formal organisations with constitutions, bylaws, and specific membership guidelines. There are three general types of federations that have been formed in recent memory, they can be refered to as "Specialist", "General Revolutionary", and "Synthesist" Federations. This terminology is in no way standard, but it is useful for purposes of description.
Federations, like affinity groups and collectives, can exist to serve a specific role or achieve a specific goal. An example of a "specialist" federation is the Anarchist Black Cross Federation (ABCF http://www.anarchistblackcross.org), which exists to do support work for political prisoners.
General revolutionary federations
Federations can also be very broad in scope and focus on organising around a particular political viewpoint, as well as doing organising work and activism that embodies and advances that political view. An example of a "general revolutionary" federation is the North Eastern Federation of Anarchist-Communists (NEFAC http://www.nefac.net), which is a federation with a broad scope that does a variety of organising and activism consistent with the principles of Anarchist-Communism.
An Anarchist federation that is "synthesist" is one that attempts to be inclusive of all Anarchist tendencies and bring Anarchists of all the varying tendencies into a single organisation - a "synthesist federation" can be considered a subcategory of "general revolutionary" federations. The closest example of a contemporary "synthesist" federation is the defunct Love and Rage Federation (in North America).
How a federation is organised and how it makes decisions is entirely up to the members of the federation. But, in terms of decision making, it can be safely said that all currently viable Anarchist federations use recallable delegates that are sent by their collectives and/or affinity groups to federation assemblies to make decisions that pertain to the federation as a whole. In terms of the what the specific internal structure of a federation is or whether consensus or direct democracy is used by the federation to make decisions, there are no hard and fast rules other than the structure and decision making method used by the federation must be consistent with the fundamental principles of Anarchism.
What is a Network?
A useful way to define an anarchist network is to compare it to an anarchist federation. Networks are far less formal than a federation (although, some networks are formal enough in structure to blur the line between network and federation), and they usually only require an agreement to a set of principles or the sharing of a general political viewpoint as a qualification for membership. Also, unlike federations which emphasise collective action and organisation, networks emphasise autonomy over formal organisation. This does not mean to imply that anarchist networks are not organised or that they are against organisation. It simply means that their organisational focus is on allowing individual member groups to engage in actions that fit within the context of the network and utilise the network itself primarily for solidarity and support of the individual member groups as needed.
Generally speaking, there are two main types of networks: formal networks and informal networks.
What typically makes a network formal is that it has a "global" decision making structure - meaning that, like a federation, there is an overarching body of delegates that make decisions pertaining to the network as a whole - in most other aspects formal networks are mostly the same as informal networks. A good example of a formal network was, the now largely defunct, Direct Action Network (DAN).
Adapted from Anarchism in Action by Shawn Ewald.