The network society has a major impact on knowledge systems, and in agricultural and rural development. It has changed relationships between actors such as farmers, extension workers, researchers, policy-makers, businessmen and consumers. These changes require different language, concepts and tools compared to the time that it was thought that science led the way and new findings had to be disseminated to target groups. Also the language of the market, talking about clients and knowledge producers, demand-driven systems and calculable results, is insufficient to describe what actually happens in innovative farmers' networks or to guide knowledge workers in what to do for speeding up such processes. This article describes experiences from a large scale experiment in the Netherlands: the 'Networks in Animal Husbandry' programme (2004-2007). The basic idea was to ask farmers to come up with innovative ideas that could help the sector farther along the track of sustainable development, and then to assist them with scientific expertise. The facilitators were embedded in a learning community and provided with language, tools and methods that grew along the way. After a total of 120 networks and many peer consultation meetings with the facilitators, a huge number of experiences have been registered. Their work required a new generation of tools: as 'free actors' they had to learn how to navigate in unknown areas, recognise at any moment what was at stake and intervene appropriately. The FAN approach emerged: Free Actors in Networks.