By Derrick McCourt, head of Public Sector, Microsoft UK

This year’s iNetwork Winter Conference in Manchester was filled with great stories. On the one hand, it was the start of our discussion of the Microsoft CityNext story here in the UK. But it was also filled with compelling real-life success stories from a variety of public sector thought leaders who are finding ways to innovate, even in a difficult climate.

What do they all have in common? A passion for using technology to improve people’s lives. Their stories bring to life how Microsoft CityNext enables a people-first approach to innovation that harnesses all the ideas, energy and expertise of a community’s people to create healthier, safer and more sustainable places to live.

A recurring theme of the conference this year was the stark recognition that the squeeze on public sector budgets is relentless, with speakers even referring to the anticipated budget settlement for 2015-16 as a ‘financial precipice’. Yet, the tone of the conference was resolutely upbeat as speaker after speaker saw the opportunity to drive lasting transformation in public services by getting people more involved in their design and delivery.

Sara Tomkins cited the example of waste collection. Every resident and business expects their local authority to collect their waste, but how many of them fully recognise their role in enabling an efficient and cost-effective waste collection service by minimising and sorting their rubbish in the first place?

Paul Monmouth, Chief Executive of Monmouthshire County Council, summarised the challenge succinctly in his observation that “innovation needs investment, even in the most challenging of times”.

We are just at the start of rolling out Microsoft CityNext across the UK. Many of the leaders I met at the iNetwork conference inspired me with their passion for embracing technology to improve the lives of people from all walks of life.

Of course, the story of how cities are changing is bigger than just the examples I have shared with you here. I encourage you to dive deeper into the Microsoft CityNext story on our website.