Virgin Media and consumer watchdog ‘Which?’ have joined the Open Data Institute (ODI) today, making them the first “major” private sector firms to collaborate with the independent and non-profit organisation.

The ODI launched in December 2012 to bring together world-class experts who can collaborate, incubate, nurture and mentor new ideas that will produce an “open data culture” with economic and social benefits for the UK.

Virgin Media will be working with the ODI to help the non-profit build a better understanding of how society is changing due to the adoption of digital services. This includes exploring aggregated and anonymous usage patterns, as well as generating new ideas for new and creative products and services that leverage open data.

Andrew Barron, Virgin Media’s COO said: “The ODI is an important partnership, maintaining our commitment to protecting our customers and their data, whilst helping to create a collaborative data culture designed to accelerate innovation and make good things happen.”

‘Which?’ has a different purpose for teaming up with the ODI though. The company will be developing information and comparison tools that will help public services to make their information more accessible for consumers.

To do this, ‘Which?’ will be using the same technology used to develop ‘Which? University’, an independent website that gives people impartial advice on different courses and education institutions.

The ODI has some formidable founders in Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, and Professor Nigel Shadbolt, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton. It is funded at the moment through a £10 million grant, allocated over five years by the UK government (via the Technology Strategy Board).

The ODI has also secured a further $750,000 from Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm – although the non-profit says it’s working toward long-term sustainability through match funding and direct revenue.

In February, the ODI celebrated Open Data Day by launching a series of events, which will be run over three years, for data owners and data users. It’s called the Open Data Immersion Programme and is designed to help small and medium-sized businesses to work with data providers and industry experts in order to use existing data for new products and services.

All of this sounds incredibly admirable, but ultimately the ODI has to be able to deliver on some of these ideas – and show tangible proof that it is doing so – in order to be taken seriously not just by the technology industry, but the UK government and wider public too.