I need to display in a select list the available chatter groups to select from, is this possible without hard coding?
You can query the CollaborationGroup Object. For example the following query
SELECT Id,Name From CollaborationGroup WHERE CollaborationType='Public'
will return all the Public chatter groups
for more details check this http://www.salesforce.com/us/developer/docs/api/Content/sforce_api_objects_collaborationgroup.htm