This paper critically evaluates and discusses some of the methodological practicalities of applying a combined participatory and small-scale survey approach to investigating rural livelihood strategies of people living in the humid forest zone of Southwest Cameroon, Southeast Nigeria and Southwest Ghana, with particular reference to assessing the economic importance of non-timber forest products. It describes the sampling methods used to select study zones, settlements and households as well as the participatory techniques and instruments used to differentiate households and gather information on rural incomes. Details of the successes and problems encountered during implementation are presented. The challenges faced by those conducting this study are also encountered by others carrying out comparable research. By sharing our experiences, we hope that the design of similar conservation and development-based research can be improved.