4 major ways researchers shaped Covid-19 policy

By: Saskia Hoving, Tue May 16 2023
Saskia H

Author: Saskia Hoving

How does publishing in the Nature Portfolio benefit researchers, funding, and policy? Following a recent webinar on this topic, we explore how Nature Portfolio journals turn research insights into evidence that drives policy change, and how this process was pivotal during the Covid-19 pandemic.

On March 16th, Jill Adie, Head of Publishing Development at Nature Research, and Stavroula Kousta, Chief Editor of Nature Human Behaviour presented a webinar highlighting how Nature Portfolio journals support researchers in amplifying the impact of their work. The webinar is the second in a series of presentations which aim to introduce librarians, research managers and information managers to the Nature Portfolio. In case you missed it, we’ve pulled out the key highlights you need to know.

How publishing shapes policy – a pandemic story

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Nature Human Behaviour published a range of papers that influenced the world’s pandemic response, and the careers of the scientists who published them. “In the early days of the pandemic, the main tool was behaviour change" said Kousta. “Recognizing this, we rapidly commissioned a piece from 43 leading behavioural science experts distilling key insights from the existing literature on topics key to the pandemic response, including science communication, leadership and threat perception.”

The resulting article1 was peer-reviewed within six days, published just as Covid-19 was declared a pandemic, and has since been cited 2000 times, accessed more than 500,000 times, and discussed broadly on social media, broad news coverage. Yet, its most important impact, says Kousta, was in shaping policy.

“One scientist who was working in government at the time on the pandemic response highlighted how enormously influential the paper was in those early days. In addition to the impact it had in thinking and policy design, the piece had a transformative impact on some of the scientists who participated in writing it – leading to collaborations and advisory relationships with various government actors and organisations including the US Surgeon General.” Dr Stavroula Kousta, Chief Editor, Nature Human Behaviour.

Shaping policy in 4 different ways

As the pandemic progressed, policy papers published in Nature Human Behaviour continued to shape Covid-19 policy in many ways, including:

  1. Saving global supply chains

    A paper that used mathematical modelling to estimate and project the effects of lockdowns on global supply chains had a substantial impact worldwide2. The authors’ key proposal for fast and strict supply chain management was adopted by the Chinese government and their predictions used to revise International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank projections of the global economic losses.

  2. Transitioning from lockdown
    When WHO experts published ten considerations for health officials to consider when transitioning from complete lockdowns to opening the economy3, it was the first time WHO based their recommendations on behavioural science. The paper led to a series of policy forums in 2020-21 with participants from nearly 40 countries, including the European Commission, the UK Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and UNICEF.

  3. Highlighting inequalities and disparities
    Several papers highlighted important inequalities and disparities during the pandemic. One paper showing that students in more disadvantaged areas were disproportionately exposed to closures was used to motivate expansion of the school meals programs4. Another found that female scientists, and especially those with young children, saw significant reductions in their available time for research5. This work was cited in multiple policy briefings including the US House Committees, the US National Academy of Medicine and the OECD.Identifying an infodemic

  4. Identifying an infodemic
    One paper assessed the risks of the ‘infodemic’ – an epidemic of false information during the pandemic – and formed the basis for the Covid-19 Infodemics Observatory6. The observatory estimates the chance that a user in a social media platform is pointed to potentially unreliable sources of information about COVID-19 and is now used routinely by the WHO.

“It’s clear that behavioural data played a crucial role in dealing with the pandemic at all stages,” said Kousta. “Yet, until the pandemic, the WHO had never made a clear recommendation to consider behavioural data alongside epidemiological and other data in a public health crisis.”

These examples show how both original research and non-research articles published and publicised by a Nature Portfolio journal can help researchers disseminate their ideas and findings in a way that informs policy and has a meaningful impact on society.

How to publish in the Nature Portfolio

So how do you publish in a Nature Portfolio journal? Jill Adie, Head of Publishing Development at Nature Research, gave an overview of the Nature Portfolio and the different ways authors can publish in the journals. The Nature Portfolio journals exist to help develop new areas of knowledge, join disciplines and make ideas and information accessible around the world. There are three ways to publish in the Nature portfolio:

  • Author choice: open access

    Nature and the Nature Research journals are transformative journals (TJs), which effectively means they are hybrid journals with a promise to eventually become fully OA. This means that an author could submit their manuscript to one of these journals, and if it is accepted, then they pay an Article Processing Charge. In January 2023, we announced support for authors from low income and low-middle income countries.

  • Open Access Agreements

    If an author’s institution or a consortium has an agreement with Nature and Nature Portfolio they can submit their manuscript in one of the Nature Research journals, and that fee is covered for them via the open access agreement.

  • Subscription

    An author submits their manuscript and if it's accepted and published, the author does not pay a fee, but the readers pay a fee to subscribe and read the journal. This covers all Nature Reviews content.

The 2021 report shows that across all our TJs we published 40% more OA research articles in 2021 than in 2020. These articles were used on average 2.8 times more than subscription articles in the same journals demonstrating the value of publishing OA.

What sets a Nature journal apart?

The Nature Portfolio encompasses our flagship journal Nature, which publishes exceptional original research in the natural sciences, plus more than 60 Nature Research journals and Nature Review journals. There are key differences between the two:

  • Nature Research Journals publish original innovative research submitted directly by authors.
  • Nature Review journals publish articles where original research is summarised and interpreted to create an overview. Nature Review articles are commissioned by the editorial team.

“What sets all the Nature Portfolio journals apart is the extremely high quality of its content,” said Jill Adie, during the webinar. “All original articles are filtered by a team of expert in-house editors who assess manuscripts for originality, novelty, robustness, and many other qualities. Almost all have a PhD, or certainly very strong scientific background. They attend conferences to keep up-to-date with their field, and they’re really rooted within their research communities”.

All Nature Portfolio papers go through an ‘enhance’ stage, where professional editors ensure that articles are accurate, clear, and concise, accessible to readers from all levels, and visually appealing. After publication, our dedicated press team will ensure articles reach a wide audience by press-releasing articles to the media, monitoring engagement through social media mentions, usage, and citations, to help researchers achieve maximum impact through their publication. 

Find out more

For more information on how Nature Portfolio can support your institution’s researchers in making an impact, see our Springer Nature librarian portal. Here, you can find an overview of our journals including the transformative journals, early insights on new journal launches, and videos explaining what makes a Nature article and the differences between different types of content. And don’t forget, you can watch the webinar recording here.


  1. Bavel, J.J.V., Baicker, K., Boggio, P.S. et al. Using social and behavioural science to support COVID-19 pandemic response. Nat Hum Behav 4, 460–471 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-0884-z
  2. Guan, D., Wang, D., Hallegatte, S. et al. Global supply-chain effects of COVID-19 control measures. Nat Hum Behav 4, 577–587 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-0896-8
  3. Haug, N., Geyrhofer, L., Londei, A. et al. Ranking the effectiveness of worldwide COVID-19 government interventions. Nat Hum Behav 4, 1303–1312 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-01009-0
  4. Gallotti, R., Valle, F., Castaldo, N. et al. Assessing the risks of ‘infodemics’ in response to COVID-19 epidemics. Nat Hum Behav 4, 1285–1293 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-00994-6
  5. Loomba, S., de Figueiredo, A., Piatek, S.J. et al. Measuring the impact of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation on vaccination intent in the UK and USA. Nat Hum Behav 5, 337–348 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-021-01056-1
  6. Parolin, Z., Lee, E.K. Large socio-economic, geographic and demographic disparities exist in exposure to school closures. Nat Hum Behav 5, 522–528 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-021-01087-8

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Saskia H

Author: Saskia Hoving

In the Dordrecht office, Marketing Manager Saskia Hoving is chief editor of The Link Newsletter and The Link Blog, covering trends & insights for all facilitators of research. Focusing on the evolving role of libraries regarding SDGs, Open Science, and researcher support, she explores academia's intersection with societal progress. With a lifelong passion for sports and recent exploration into "Women's inclusion in today's science", Saskia brings dynamic insights to her work.