In this paper a framework for empirical analysis is introduced that allows for a dynamic analysis of the interactions between different types of actors and institutions. We elaborate our argument by focusing on a complex phenomenon-corporatism-to show how this concept can be developed into a measure that travels across nations and time. The heuristic framework we developed adequately captures the interactive behaviour of the relevant actors within a corporatist institutional context. We demonstrate the usefulness of this framework for the analysis of policy formation by applying it to Dutch incomes policy. We contend that this heuristic framework contributes to alleviating the often discussed methodological trade-off between single case studies and cross-national comparisons. We also argue that it can bridge the gap between qualitative and quantitative approaches. Lastly, we propose that it can be used for empirical analysis of policy-making processes in other policy areas. © 2008 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.