As part of the 50th issue of PLA Notes, this article provides an introductory overview of both critical reflections as well as future directions of participatory learning and action. The articles compiled in the 50th edition speak from personal analyses and experiences. This article describes the process and products of a writeshop, held at IDS, where the participants came up with a timeline of participatory development based on their experiences. The main themes identified then formed the basis for the articles in this special issue of PLA Notes, including literacy, adult education and empowerment; participatory communications; sexual and reproductive health and well-being; gender and development; children's participation; agriculture, livestock and fisheries; people-centred approaches for natural resource management; urban participatory development; participation and well-being; monitoring and evaluation; advocacy, citizenship and rights; participatory processes in the North; governance and democracy; and critical reflections from practice. Several crosscutting themes also emerged, such as the evolution or participatory discourse; sharing learning and best practice between the South and the North; recognizing the political significance of participation, democratization and issues of power; scaling-up and institutionalizing participatory approaches; the continuing importance of critical reflection and participatory monitoring and evaluation; and the links between working at the local, national and international levels. After identifying these themes, the article goes on to briefly introduce and summarise each of the articles in this special issue. The article concludes with a hope that readers of PLA Notes continue to send in critical reflections and examples of innovations and best practices.