Based on the results of a Horizon Scanning exercise sponsored by the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry that focused on advancing the adverse outcome pathway (AOP) framework, the development of guidance related to AOP network development was identified as a critical need. This not only included questions focusing directly on AOP networks, but also on related topics such as mixture toxicity assessment and the implementation of feedback loops within the AOP framework. A set of two articles has been developed to begin exploring these concepts. In the present article (part I), we consider the derivation of AOP networks in the context of how it differs from the development of individual AOPs. We then propose the use of filters and layers to tailor AOP networks to suit the needs of a given research question or application. We briefly introduce a number of analytical approaches that may be used to characterize the structure of AOP networks. These analytical concepts are further described in a dedicated, complementary article (part II). Finally, we present a number of case studies that illustrate concepts underlying the development, analysis, and application of AOP networks. The concepts described in the present article and in its companion article (which focuses on AOP network analytics) are intended to serve as a starting point for further development of the AOP network concept, and also to catalyze AOP network development and application by the different stakeholder communities.