Purpose: To investigate ethnographically how patient experience data, as a named category in healthcare organisations, is actively “made” through the co-creative interactions of data, people and meanings in English hospitals. Design/methodology/approach: The authors draw on fieldnotes, interview recordings and transcripts produced from 13 months (2016–2017) of ethnographic research on patient experience data work at five acute English National Health Service (NHS) hospitals, including observation, chats, semi-structured interviews and documentary analysis. Research sites were selected based on performance in a national Adult Inpatient Survey, location, size, willingness to participate and research burden. Using an analytical approach inspired by actor–network theory (ANT), the authors examine how data acquired meanings and were made to act by clinical and administrative staff during a type of meeting called a “learning session” at one of the hospital study sites. Findings: The authors found that the processes of systematisation in healthcare organisations to act on patient feedback to improve to the quality of care, and involving frontline healthcare staff and their senior managers, produced shifting understandings of what counts as “data” and how to make changes in response to it. Their interactions produced multiple definitions of “experience”, “data” and “improvement” which came to co-exist in the same systematised encounter. Originality/value: The article's distinctive contribution is to analyse how patient experience data gain particular attributes. It suggests that healthcare organisations and researchers should recognise that acting on data in standardised ways will constantly create new definitions and possibilities of such data, escaping organisational and scholarly attempts at mastery.