August 16, 2000 During the 1990s, central banks in the industrialized countries made important changes in the way they operate. As part of these initiatives, central banks have endeavoured to define a set of best practices, learning from each other in the process. The goal was to improve and adapt the frameworks within which monetary policy is implemented. Clarifying Objectives A clear objective is a necessary starting point for any policy framework. The growing consensus that price stability is the most appropriate objective for monetary policy was perhaps one of the most critical developments of the past decade. Price stability is now universally regarded as the key contribution that monetary policy can make to promote sustainable growth and maximize the level of employment. Central banks also need a clear strategy for achieving their objective. A major development of the past decade was the growing popularity of inflation targets as the numerical focus for monetary policy. Clearly defined inflation targets focus policy on the variable that is directly associated with price stability. The Bank of Canada was one of the first to adopt (in 1991) a set of targets for inflation over a specified time horizon. Accountability Many central banks have acquired greater independence and this, together with the public's desire for more information from key public institutions, has raised the standards for accountability. At the same time, explicit targets provide a clear measure against which to judge the performance of the monetary authorities. Increased accountability also has implications for the overall transparency of the monetary authorities. In sum, central banks have become much more open institutions and are placing greater emphasis on their communications activities. As an example, comprehensive inflation reports have become key communications vehicles for a number of central banks. Many of the changes implemented by central banks stem from the desire to improve the credibility of monetary policy, thus making it easier for monetary authorities to achieve their objectives. Although it is difficult to ascertain the overall effect of the evolving policy framework, it is encouraging that inflation and inflation expectations were at low levels at the end of the 1990s, thus providing a solid base for monetary policy in the future.
The effective conduct of monetary policy is complicated by uncertainty about the level of potential output, and thus about the size of the monetary policy response that would be sufficient to achieve the targeted inflation rate. One possible response to such uncertainty is for the monetary authority to "probe," interpreted here as actively using its policy response to learn about the level of potential output.