Defining our case

Interpretive policy analysis provided a clear starting point for our study, privileging policy and politics as 'the object of study' (Tusting and Maybin, 2007), and guiding us to focus initially on the dispersed policy spaces and practices that make up health policy and planning. The distributed and fragmented character of policy meant that, in order to unravel the narratives allied to think tanks (and the individuals allied to them) and their role in shaping health policy, we needed to explore the work of think tanks via various sources and genres of data.

We undertook a collective case study (Simons, 2009) of think tanks' role in shaping health policy. We began by developing a typology of UK think tanks that have health and healthcare as part of their programme and, from this, selected four think tanks, ensuring a range of activities, histories and funding sources. The four think tanks (all referred to anonymously here, and elsewhere, as Think Tanks A, B, C and D) together provided an opportunity to study policymaking from a range of perspectives. However, we needed a concrete instance of health policy and planning on which to focus. At the time of the study, the Coalition Government had set out a substantial programme of reforms to the NHS in England, including general practitioners taking on a substantial role commissioning healthcare and a new economic regulator overseeing extended competition amongst (public and private) healthcare providers. We focused on this programme of reforms in order to have a tangible example of health policy and planning on which to focus data collection and analysis, and to explore how think tanks engaged with it. All four think tanks in our sample were engaged in work relating to this programme of reforms either directly (in three cases) or tangentially (in one case).

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